Like pale green seawater searching its way over coral, the 60-foot sloop Running Tide twisted and turned as she beat to weather on a shifty breeze off Nassau. To win the Southern Ocean Racing Conference, all she had to do was finish 10th or better in this final race of the series—a round trip of 31 miles out to the protuberance called Booby Rocks and back. But now, as she swam to windward, Running Tide's luck seemed to have abandoned her. Every tack she took was out of phase with the wind and drew her deeper into trouble. Every tack pulled David Steere's Yankee Girl farther and farther ahead. It was enough to give Running Tide's owner and skipper, Jakob Isbrandtsen, a rich red thrombosis.
She had done so well in previous races. She had been so consistent. She had so much going for her. Granted she was an old crock already a year in the water—hull and gear development is racing a long at a furious pace these days—Running Tide had had everything of the best, beginning the moment designer Olin Stephens put her shapely lines on paper.
Isbrandtsen, president of a big New York steamship company—remember his Flying Enterprise and Captain Kurt Carlsen?—gave her expert seamanship. "I went to Olin," he said, "and told him I wanted a boat 45 foot on the waterline and that he would have a free hand with the rest. He could make her as long as he wanted, give her whatever beam he thought best, make her as deep as he liked. But, as I told him, I would do the rest."
The "rest" reflects the depth of Isbrandtsen's ocean racing experience. Instead of being cut up into numerous little cubicles as so many boats are today, down below Running Tide is dramatically wide open from bow to stern. For easy upkeep she is paneled not in fancy teak or mahogany but in serviceable Formica. There is a bunk for each man, a special sail bin for each sail, gratings instead of floorboards so that any water seeping below will drain into the bilge. And since Isbrandtsen has no hired hand and his amateur crews are expected to cook, there is a galley in which amateurs can turn out an edible meal.
Best of all, as anyone can imagine who has ever had to roll out and go on deck in the middle of a roaring wet night to put a reef in the mainsail, Isbrandtsen has made it possible to reef the sloop from belowdecks in the snugness of her cabin.
Running Tide had more than mere looks and efficiency; she had some kind of hotshot crew, not big as crews go but miles deep in experience. Men like Bill Kelly, Charlie Bertrand, Bizzy Monte-Sano. Her navigator, Jim Shepley, owns his own ocean racer and right-hand man Vic Romagna is almost as famous for his America's Cup crewing as Bus Mosbacher is for his helmsmanship. On occasion Bob McCullough, skipper of the America's Cup contender Valiant, also has served.
Together they drove Tide hard and well. The first race of the series was a 105-mile haul from St. Petersburg to Venice, Fla. in which she finished fourth, astern of a wickedly fast sloop called Sorcery. Not an auspicious beginning, but not bad. A week later came a real gear buster, the 400-mile trip around the hook of Florida from St. Petersburg to Fort Lauderdale. Not only was it the longest race of the series, it also turned out to be the roughest. Last year's champion, American Eagle, won with Running Tide second and, fortunately for both, they finished before a storm frothed up the sea. Masts flew about like twigs in the maelstrom, and one boat dropped out with what her owner described as "crew failure." The veteran ocean racer Dick Kurts said afterward, "Sitting up on Equation's rail with water washing over me, I asked myself, 'What am I doing out here?' "
At this point Running Tide had a slight lead in the standings over American Eagle. Then came the race from Miami to Lucaya (which Running Tide skipped), a disaster for the Big Bad Bird. Storming across a newly angry Gulf Stream, Eagle lost her mast when a stay let go. A toggle fastener failed and the stay went, followed by the mast, which cracked off at deck level. "Snap, crackle, pop," growled Skipper Ted Turner (SI, March 16, 1970). Mast, mainsail and genny all collapsed in a tangled mess, forcing the shorn Eagle to limp back to Miami for urgent rerigging so she could make the Lipton Cup.
What a waste. In years past, one mark of what was then a triangular Lipton course consisted of a Coast Guard ship out in the Gulf Stream holding position under power since anchoring is impossible. This mark had a tendency to weave about in the Stream. It often became a comic hare-and-hounds chase as the fleet charged after her, trying to catch her and round her.
This year it was decided to make a sort of slalom course along Miami Beach. Even worse chaos resulted. Some racers could not find the first mark, again a boat, and others passed it on the wrong side. Protests spewed forth. Running Tide got a sixth place.