The drama of the 1973 World One Ton Cup championship was in the best traditions of a Horatio Alger cum Cinderella script—almost. Its setting was pure Hollywood: the replica of a medieval Italian village built by the Aga Khan on the island of Sardinia against a backdrop of rugged mountains and scalloped sandy coves lapped by emerald waters and capped by skies of purest blue.
The cast consisted of the finest skippers and crews from 12 nations, the largest representation in cup history, manning 24 yachts epitomizing the latest thinking of the world's best-known naval architects—yachts small in size but festooned with winches and go-fast gadgetry, some with instruments reminiscent of jet aircraft. Never in the history of yachting has so much expensive complexity been crammed into so little space as in the current crop of craft built for One Ton competition.
Into this distinguished gathering sailed Ganbare, an unknown boat conceived by an unknown designer who was also its skipper and, as such, equally unknown. Alongside the sleek vessels moored in Porto Cervo, Ganbare looked forlorn. Her total instrumentation consisted of two small compasses and a knot meter that did not work. There were but two winches in the cockpit area, a single spinnaker pole and no fat in the way of blocks, tracks or other refinements. The trunk cabin was boxy instead of streamlined, the cockpit deep and square and the tiller looked as though it could have been fashioned from a wagon tongue. Below, her accommodations were so spare that a Spartan might have considered jumping ship.
True, at trials held off San Diego Ganbare had won the right to be one of three boats representing the U.S., but this happened under circumstances bordering on the miraculous. The unknown quantity behind Ganbare, Douglas Peterson, 28, had never before designed a boat that got built, and this one—simple principally through necessity—represented his life savings and every dollar he could borrow. After Peterson decided to gamble on building a One Tonner, Ganbare had taken form in only 11 weeks from first pencil lines to launching. She had gone into the water only three days before her first race, leaving just a few hours for tune-ups. Adding to the odds against Ganbare (which means good luck in Japanese) was the fact that Peterson had never before skippered a boat in a major race. Yet even after winning the West Coast elimination trials and becoming one of the Sardinia triumvirs (along with Ted Turner, sailing the Olin Stephens-designed Lightnin', and Ted Hood in his latest Robin) Peterson and Ganbare were not regarded as a serious threat to the Establishment. After all, the California trials were sailed in light breezes that would favor a small, light boat, while the area around Sardinia's Strait of Bonifacio is noted for boisterous winds and turbulent waters.
But it did not take long for the ugly duckling to sprout wings and fly away from the Sardinia fleet. The wind at the start of the first Olympic course of 25 miles was a hefty force 5 and the sea was lumpy. As Ganbare had never before encountered such conditions, Peterson and his crew lost time finding the best way to handle her. But by the second windward leg they had wrested the lead from Italian Admiral Agostino Straulino at the helm of the Dick Carter-designed Ydra. Ganbare simply pointed higher while footing faster than the competition. At the finish Ted Hood in Robin was a rather distant third. The race was distinguished by the unusual spectacle of the leading boat making a 360-degree turn near the finish. To save the price of secondary winches Peterson had employed jaw-type stoppers on the genoa sheets. The weather sheet jammed when tacking and the stopper would not let go its bit, so foredeckman John Driscoll slashed the sheet with his knife—and his leg in the process. As crew member Bill Greene commented, "Everything wrong with Ganbare can be explained by no money or not enough time"
At the start of the second event, a 130-mile offshore jaunt that took the fleet through the Strait of Bonifacio and back to Porto Cervo, the wind was even fresher. Ganbare soon seized the lead and stayed in front all around the course despite a wild predawn sleighride when the strait lived up to its reputation. Spinnakers blew away like autumn leaves, and few boats escaped broaching or worse. When Ganbare sped across the finish ahead of Ydra and the pack it was apparent she was no Sunday afternoon drifter. But, alas! She was not going to be the winner. Through an incredible error she had rounded a mark on the wrong side, this despite sailing instructions emphasizing the proper course in bold-faced type. The race committee was as lenient as the rules permitted, but a 5% penalty added to Ganbare's time dropped her from first to 13th in a race where points were weighted by 1.5. Ydra thus took first; Hann, sailed by the redoubtable Chris Bouzaid of New Zealand, winner of the last One Ton world championship, moved into second and England's Winsome was elevated to third.
It was a bitter disappointment for Peterson and his crew. They were still shaken going into the third race, another Olympic course, and now it was really blowing, a northerly of 30 to 35 knots according to the anemometer on the Italian navy minesweeper serving as committee boat. Again Ganbare and Ydra worked out ahead, although Winsome was first around the weather mark after gambling on a long offshore tack. Ydra passed Ganbare during a bad spinnaker wrap on the turn and went through Winsome on the second heat; that remained the order to the finish: Ydra, Winsome, Ganbare.
"We just didn't know how to sail the boat in the early stages," said Peterson afterward. "In theory a light boat should shorten down in heavy weather, so we started with too small a headsail, but Ganbare needs driving. When we finally found the right combo we were at least as fast as Ydra and were catching Winsome, but there wasn't enough distance. Still, we sure were surprised at how she went."
So was everyone else. Olin Stephens, who followed the race in a motor launch to see how his own designs fared, later remarked, "I never saw a boat that impressed me more. There was a good deal of white water around and Ganbare was sliding along very, very fast. She demonstrated she is really an all-round boat." Then with characteristic generosity he added, "It is a good thing for the sport that a youngster can come along and build a boat like this on a shoestring, and it is good for the One Ton rule, too."
The boat causing so much commotion was in appearance neither radical nor unconventional, although she was visibly smaller and narrower than her competitors. At 12,500 pounds displacement she was also lighter; most of the fleet averaged between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds. Probably her most unusual design feature is her bottom in the area of the keel. Instead of the more normal wineglass sections based on graceful curves, Gem-bare has flatter garboards, allowing a slightly longer keel in the vertical dimension and thus a higher aspect ratio—nautical gobbledygook meaning that in profile she could be taller in relation to width, which current thinking translates into greater speed potential. Yet none of these features, either singly or in combination, adequately explain her design breakthrough.