SI Vault
Carleton Mitchell
November 24, 1969
In fierce secrecy and at enormous cost, French pen lord Marcel Bich is pushing a formidable challenge for the America's Cup. A famous U.S. yachtsman, employing 007 techniques, penetrates the veil
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November 24, 1969

$2 Million Berth To Newport

In fierce secrecy and at enormous cost, French pen lord Marcel Bich is pushing a formidable challenge for the America's Cup. A famous U.S. yachtsman, employing 007 techniques, penetrates the veil

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Ferrari for some time has been on a crash program of developing fabric in various weights, running from mainsail to spinnaker cloth, and insiders hint that samples are rapidly improving. The firm has been joined by a sailmaker from Nantes, M. Burgaud, who has worked closely with Jean-Marie Le Guillou, winner of the world championship in 5.5s this year at Sandhamn, Sweden, and a leading candidate for helmsman of France. The New York Yacht Club has given permission to use sailcloth made anywhere in Europe, and a German firm is furnishing promising fabric. Finally, Ted Hood has set up a sail loft in Nice. There is nothing in the rules that would prevent his organization from cutting sails from local cloth—or doing the whole job if it manufactured the fabric in France.

Crew work does not seem to be a problem. "My guess is they will have a first-rate organization," says Bob Bavier. "So many were tried that even if they found only one good man out of any 11, and they brought him back, they would have more than enough candidates." Brit Chance, after sailing on the Mediterranean last year, found the competing crews "mechanically almost perfect, almost overtrained from going round the buoys so often." Louis Noverraz tells of spinnakers up and drawing within a boatlength of a mark, and slow-motion movies showing flawless techniques.

The process of elimination to find the best has applied even more rigorously to potential helmsmen than winch pumpers. The roster of those who have been invited to try out reads like a Who's Who of French yachtsmen, right down to winners of minor regattas, with outside experts like Bavier and Louis Noverraz providing bench marks.

Now it looks as though selection has narrowed down to Jean-Marie Le Guillou and Poppie Delfour, both young and aggressive. Le Guillou is only 25, but he teethed on a tiller. He is a volatile Breton whose arguments with two brothers crewing aboard his 5.5 can sometimes be heard many kilometers inland. But he proved to have cold competitive courage by coming back to win the world championship a year after failing to be selected for the 1968 Olympic team. Nevertheless, according to reports, Poppie Delfour at one point had the better record in match competition, defeating Jean-Marie three out of four in one series. A former 5-0-5 helmsman, he was an early member of the Bich team and has been sailing Twelves for three years. A final choice probably will not be made until the last minute.

The future timetable seems fairly certain. At the end of August practice ended on the Mediterranean, and the four-boat fleet was transported in pairs by motor convoy to Trinit�-sur-Mer on the Atlantic coast—no mean logistical feat in itself. Practice will continue through the winter. Construction of France began Sept. 1, and it is hoped she will be launched in March for intensive trials before being shipped to the United States. July 1 is the target date for France and Chancegger to resume practice off Newport. The huge mansion called Miramar, sleeping 60 (in the winter a girls' school), has been rented by AFCA as a shore base.

During the period preceding the elimination races, there not only will be time for familiarization with conditions off Newport but intense competition between helmsmen and crews for selection. Then, on Aug. 18, begins a series of best four out of seven races against the Australians, to be sailed under America's Cup conditions on America's Cup courses, presided over by a neutral committee headed by Beppe Croce, past chairman of Olympic juries and vice-president of the International Yacht Racing Union. The winner of this series will meet the winner of the American final trials, which will be sailed concurrently in adjoining waters.

So far reports from Down Under indicate that the next Australian challenge is cast in the pattern of '62 and '67, with an emphasis on the former, when Sir Frank Packer masterminded the campaign of Gretel. Only a single new boat is being built, but the former challengers do exist as trial horses. Rumors displace two-time Helmsman Jock Sturrock but do not name a successor. After putting on such a good show with Gretel, winning one race and coming close in another, the summary four straight defeats of Dame Pattie by Intrepid were bitter for the Aussies. Much effort has gone into producing better fabric and sails, and manufacturers of other gear now have a considerable background. Crew work has always been good and can reasonably be expected to be even better.

The American defender will be formidable, whether the word is pronounced in French or English. Olin Stephens, to date without peer in the world, has designed a successor to Intrepid for a syndicate headed by Bob McCullough and George Hinman. The first is owner and skipper of the successful ocean racer Inverness, and as helmsman of the chartered Constellation during the '67 campaign proved himself a fine organizer as well as extremely skillful around the buoys. George Hinman is also not only an experienced ocean racer but has had a long background in class racing. As skipper of American Eagle during the same '67 campaign he was a master of match-racing tactics, being especially impressive on the starting line. Combined with the know-how of Olin and Rod Stephens, it will be a difficult combination to beat.

Intrepid is still owned by the syndicate formed by Bill Strawbridge and Burr Bartram, and will be given everything necessary to make her even faster than last time, when she seemed as close to being a breakthrough design as is possible to achieve under the restrictions of the rule. Brit Chance, who formally terminated his connection with the French effort after he undertook to modify Intrepid, can be counted on to add—or subtract, as he is a specialist in reduction of wetted surface—an extra something. An important change will be the hand on the helm. Bus Mosbacher has bowed out for reasons of family, business and his job as the State Department's chief of protocol. His replacement is Bill Ficker, world Star class champion in 1958 and co-helmsman of Columbia during the last trials.

Down in St. Petersburg, Designer-Builder-Sail maker-Helmsman Charley Morgan is employing an unorthodox yet logical method in the construction of Heritage, the first candidate for defense to come out of Dixie. By beginning with the deck and working down, he is buying time for additional tank tests. "We can go ahead with what we're sure of," he explains, "while awaiting a decision on such items as the ultimate keel form." Charley Morgan was associated with Columbia in '62 and since has kept in close contact with developments in the class, meanwhile practicing with great success four of the arts of the sailor. Thus when he declares that he is encouraged with model tests to date and believes "we will be very competitive," there can be no doubt he will come up with a fast boat, well campaigned, having the additional advantage of shakedown trials during the Florida winter.

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