Just getting a boat to Newport is a pretty fair accomplishment, however—not unlike being invited into the taut and conservative New York Yacht Club, and both France and Australia may compliment themselves on the club's confidence in their capacities for seamanship and yachting decorum. Ted Turner, a hard-driving Atlantan with a fine ocean-racing record in the old American Eagle, has not yet succeeded in making the club's membership roster. He is getting into the sacred waters this week, though, by chartering Eagle to the Aussies as their trial horse.
The NYYC has always been somewhat grudging about broadening its base of membership. The most famous postwar cup skipper, Emil (Bus) Mosbacher, now the nation's Chief of Protocol, is one of the very few men of Jewish descent on the rolls. Over the years the club has agreed to accommodate the most pressing requests of the foreign challengers—they have not had to sail the seas to Newport for 33 years—but still feels a heavy responsibility for keeping its own bolt tightly knurled to the bottom of the cup in its sedate rooms on Manhattan's 44th Street. A few years ago, when Baron Bich first advanced the idea of having trials to select a foreign challenger from more than one country, a yacht club officer coldly responded, "This is not the Davis Cup." Ah, but a less brassbound spirit ultimately prevailed.
The Australian crew, an uncommonly robust and jovial band of veterans, stayed behind in Sydney Harbor racing the first Gretel against Stephens' oldie but goodie, Vim, while a freighter gave Gretel II her leisurely 14,000-mile ride to Newport. "It makes you a bit uneasy, mate, to think that you might be putting up a new spinnaker for the first time at the first mark in the first race, doesn't it now?" said Skipper Jim Hardy. Indeed, though Hardy, 37, a good-humored Sydney winegrower, seems cool enough.
Among early items of news that may or may not be relevant now was word from Down Under that Sir Frank Packer's Gretel II had been singularly unimpressive in first trials. She had a bendy mast and turned with all the finesse of a beer truck, it was said. Thus, though the loyalists at home were wearing hopeful pro-Aussie sweatshirts, Newport felt the magnificent young men of Gretel II to be underequipped—like commandos going to war with wooden swords, as one observer put it.
Newport loved the Aussies nonetheless. On Bellevue Avenue servant girls (nearly all college girls on summer vacation these years) were atwitter over Hardy's brawny buckos. Merchants of wine, spirits and other drinks of the night were also pleased. One of Newport's favorite stories is that in 1967 an enterprising barkeep imported a few hundred gallons of Australian beer and rang up a $50,000 profit during America's Cup weeks.
The forces of Baron Bich, meanwhile, had arrived late in June. It was a bit more than a force de frappe the baron brought along. No fewer than 70 people were in his party, including all of his own nine children (aged 3 to 31) and three chefs. They occupied a Newport monument, Miramar, built by George Widener (who went down with the Titanic), now a girls' school. Though luxurious inside, the grounds have become somewhat dowdy, so the French hired their own men to pluck crabgrass from cracks in the patio and dig dandelions from the garden urns.
But the French have problems more serious than Newport's perennial shortage of gardeners. Two potential skippers have stalked out; there have been morale problems among the hard-worked crewmen. "A Frenchman is nothing if not an individualist," said Bruno Bich, the baron's second son and spokesman. "Of course, I admit we have tried something new by not yet naming a permanent crew or a permanent helmsman, but we feel that if a man is part of a team effort, it should not matter to him if he races or not. Perhaps we are wrong, but we think if a man has a big FRANCE on his shirt, that is really the point, because he is part of the effort."
Bruno Bich added: "If we could beat the Australians and then finish, perhaps, three to five minutes behind the American boat, we would feel we have accomplished a great deal."
If spending will make it so, the French will accomplish; they are into the game for approximately $2 million at present. Marcel Bich has indicated he will spend whatever is necessary eventually to win the cup.
But like Henry James, a sometime Newport visitor, Bich is not amused by profligate spending. He is more concerned with the glory of France, and is not of the company James decried one Newport summer in its gilded age as worshippers of the "great, black ebony god of business," and whose mansions, in James' view, should "stand there always, vast and blank, for reminder to those concerned of the prohibited degrees of witlessness, and of the peculiarly awkward vengeances of affronted proportion and discretion."