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In match racing the winner usually turns out to be the man or beast that socks it to his opponent first and most forcefully. Nashua once did it to Swaps. Bill Ficker on Intrepid did it to Gretel's Jim Hardy in the America's Cup. Last week off the California coast Louisianian John Dane III socked it to seven other collegiate skippers and thereby claimed the right to be called just about the best young match-racing sailor in the United States.
What Tulane University's Dane did on one brief weekend was go undefeated against the saltiest sailors of Southern Cal, Cal State at Long Beach, Washington, Ohio State, Brown, Stevens Institute and the University of Hawaii. One might argue that any kid can be lucky on a given weekend, but not in Dane's case. He had gone seven for seven the year before to win the same competition—for a trophy called the Douglas Cup—for the first time. The races were sailed off Long Beach in eight identical Columbia 26 yachts and, coming after the starchy America's Cup proceedings at Newport, it is refreshing to say that they were held with a minimum of dignity and decorum. There was tight, tough sailing, yes. Fiery tactics, yes. Stiff upper lip, no.
This informality began with the things the college sailors—a skipper and three crewmen to each yacht—put on their transoms, which is to say the back of the boats. Long Beach sketched in a pumpkin for Halloween. Southern Cal dubbed its craft Unsafe, perhaps on the theory that it was, at any speed. John Dane III meticulously taped the mysterious appelation H. Monroe's to his transom.
The racing course was different, too. Rather than 24.3 America's Cup miles over six legs, Long Beach offered 2.5 miles on five legs: windward, leeward, windward, leeward, finish. The boats were provided fresh off the molds by the Columbia Yacht Corp. These were then drawn for by lot. The sponsoring Long Beach Yacht Club intended the racing to be a test of men, not machines, and so tried to ensure that hulls and sails would be as nearly alike as human beings could make them. No custom fittings were permitted, nor were bottoms scrubbed after the racing began. However, crews were allowed to make minor adjustments to the rigging. And in contrast with the sedate, if deadly, prerace waltzes performed during most America's Cup matches, here one heard quite a lot of yelling, not to mention a few jolly rammings and other close scrapes.
Through it all, Dane was cocky and loose. And why not? He had been around. As runner-up in the 1970 World Soling class championships he had defeated a truly great Dane—perhaps the best sailor in the world today—Paul Elvstrom. And for two years the Tulane Dane had been a collegiate All-America. He had taken the North American junior sailing championship at Annapolis in 1967. In 1969 he was the North American Soling champion. He had raced aboard the converted 12-meter sloop American Eagle with Ted Turner, a man he resembles in voice and sailing passion. Last summer in his spare time Dane jammed his lanky frame into a Windmill dinghy and won the world championship in that class. As much as anything, he did it for a friend who wanted to sell his Windmill, reasoning that a world-champion boat would have some value.
Last week Dane had one small regret. He was without the services of a former crewman, Bobby Nugon, whom he fondly calls the Animal. On sailing boats, animals are people who crank winches. Bobby was a special one, because last year he trimmed Dane's jib sheets nice and taut in one race, even though both winch handles had been lost overboard. In place of the graduated Nugon, or Igor the Bear, as he has also been called, was By Baldridge. In Baldridge's paws a winch whirs just about as effectively as for Nugon, and he has the animal act down pat offshore. At Long Beach a typical breakfast consisted of pancakes and barbecue sauce, with a soupcon of Tabasco. That came after a mug of beer.
The Douglas Cup opened on Friday in an equally indigestible fog, which caused half of the 16 scheduled matches to be postponed. The fog did not, however, stop one between Dane and Stevens Institute's Jonathan Ford. In the prestart maneuvering, Ford slipped, fell, let go of his tiller and rammed Dane. Exit Mr. Ford from serious contention.
The round-robin series of races resumed next day. First off, Dane met Long Beach, skippered by Ed Kimball. Long Beach has a lady coach, Mary Lynn Hyde, who comes from New Orleans and grew up on John Dane's home water, Lake Pontchartrain. Needless to say, Miss Hyde wanted to win.
Dane started with his customary aggressiveness, crossing ahead of the Long Beach sloop by 12 seconds. Up the first leg the boats beat, with Miss Hyde's boys nibbling away at Dane's lead. As John sailed into a flat spot Kimball rounded the weather mark 35 seconds ahead. On the following run Long Beach held a slender lead. "Choke, John, choke!" called Mary Lynn amiably from a spectator boat in a voice that might have been heard in Louisiana.
Sadly for Miss Hyde, it was not John who choked but her own Long Beach sailors. They blew the lead as the final beat began, by getting the jib sheets every way but right. Dane pounced; Dane won.