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Carleton Mitchell
October 05, 1970
But, ah, what sharp teeth "Gretel" had as she provided the strongest challenge in recent America's Cup history. A victory on Monday clinched "Intrepid's" successful defense after an emotional series
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October 05, 1970

No Cup For The Lady

But, ah, what sharp teeth "Gretel" had as she provided the strongest challenge in recent America's Cup history. A victory on Monday clinched "Intrepid's" successful defense after an emotional series

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The spectator fleet had dwindled during the week from the monster marine parade that followed earlier events, but even so Gretel came across the line into pandemonium. The return to harbor was a triumphant procession with church bells ringing and automobile horns blowing as the Aussies warped into their dock. To complete the triumph, their flag signaling a willingness to race the next day was answered by a negative in the rigging of Intrepid. For the first time in memory a defender had been forced onto the defensive.

Needless to say, long after the excitement and close competition of the 21st challenge have dimmed, the disqualification that cost Gretel the second race will be discussed. For the benefit of sailors who were not present and nonsailors who became emotional without understanding the circumstances, it seems essential to review events, beginning with the protest in the first race. On that day Jim Hardy and Bill Ficker came together in a starboard and port tack crossing situation, with Intrepid altering course to keep clear. When the Aussies came too close for Ficker to take further evasive action, Gretel luffed and would have struck Intrepid had not Hardy tacked at the last moment. As no contact was made, the race committee disallowed both protests.

The following day the Aussie camp announced that "Gentleman Jim" Hardy, so called in Sydney for his mild manner, would be replaced at the start by Dutch-born Martin Visser, who had earned a reputation for aggressiveness during trials Down Under. Sunday was clear, the sea calm and the wind a gentle six to eight knots. At some two minutes before starting time, Ficker reached away from the line to make a timed run for the committee boat end. Visser placed Gretel on an intercepting course and waited. To anyone with the slightest knowledge of racing tactics it was obvious that his intent was to give Intrepid no room at the mark, forcing Ficker either to pass outside or bear off to leeward. It was a perfectly legitimate gambit, if properly executed.

Intrepid, coming from astern, was to windward and moving much faster. A few seconds before the gun was due, I muttered into the tape machine on which I record maneuvers for later transcription, "Gretel is trying to squeeze Intrepid outside the committee boat.... There's the gun. Intrepid has room to pass. She's going through.... Gretel is hardly moving.... A beautiful start for Ficker."

Suddenly my voice changes key, exclaiming in surprise, "That looks like a foul." Later, on replaying the tape for shipmates, we found the interval to be 14 seconds. Aerial photos bear witness to the same thing—Gretel luffed high to drive her bow into Intrepid's side after the starting signal was hoisted.

The International Yacht Racing Union's rules, which govern competition throughout the world, are crystal clear. Intrepid protested under 42.1 (E), which reads: "When approaching the starting line...a leeward yacht shall be under no obligation to give any windward yacht room to pass to leeward of a starting mark...but, after the starting signal, a leeward yacht...shall not deprive a windward yacht of sailing above close-hauled." Gretel came head to wind, as the pictures show. This rule is so fundamental that the preamble to the section states it "overrides any conflicting rule," specifically including those which the Australians cited in their protest. Gretel had not only failed through poor timing to accomplish her tactic of squeezing out Intrepid but was guilty of the nautical equivalent of sliding with spikes high when caught off base, or, after being outsmarted, of roughing a receiver who has already caught the football.

An outcry went up around the world, with especially bitter reactions from Down Under, although one Aussie in Newport commented, "If you play hard you shouldn't squeal when the umpire blows the whistle." The New York Yacht Club race committee was on the spot, forced to apply a rule not of its own making. Furthermore, the rule book offers no alternative to disqualification, which the collision made mandatory. Had Gretel not forced contact, there might have been an out. But vessels over 60 feet long, weighing in at some 30 tons and not equipped with brakes, must conform to recognized traffic patterns or close competition would be impossible. The regrettable circumstance was that an Olympic type international jury had not been formed to deliver the verdict. This surely will be rectified in future America's Cup matches.

The real victims were Designer Alan Payne and Sailmaker Peter Cole. Despite her disastrous start Gretel crossed the finish line 1:07 ahead. Had she simply started with clear air and let her speed do the rest, quite possibly she would have tripled the margin. For there remains no doubt that Gretel is at least as fast as Intrepid, probably faster in winds of less than 15 knots. Not only has the technological gap been closed on deck and aloft but also in the creation of a go-fast hull. In fact the margin between challenger and defender seems to have shrunk to organization. In every race the boat whose skipper and crew have made the fewest mistakes around the course has been the winner.

After their own close battles the French have taken vicarious satisfaction and new hope from the performance of Gretel against Intrepid. Arrangements have been made to leave France, Chancegger and Constellation in Newport. One of the latter two will be offered for sale, thus leaving the French a couple for practice. "No matter what, we will come back next summer and train," stated Bruno Bich. "After the eliminations we raced France against the Australians and also Valiant. I think we learned quite a bit about the boat. Our feeling now is the hull is good. What we lacked was the time for the mast and sails." Baron Bich is presently back home conferring, and Bruno Bich confirmed that a challenge may be forthcoming for a date even before the lapse of the customary three years. While the French deny they have bought Miramar, the 60-room mansion that housed their team this summer, it is admitted that they have taken up the mortgage.

The advent of sails comparable to the defender's is also encouraging to English yachtsmen. Vectis cloth, from which the magnificent mainsail of Gretel was cut, was woven on the Isle of Wight. Eric Maxwell, the owner of Sceptre, whose plans to challenge this time were thwarted by the devaluation of the pound and a slump in Britain's economy, and Anthony Boyden, the challenger with Sovereign in 1964, both feel the biggest hurdle has been overcome. There is better than a 50-50 chance that a syndicate will be formed to present a challenger for 1973, Maxwell said. He added, "England needs at least two boats to get by. My syndicate would provide one, and other groups are working on the same idea."

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