Stephens is the original designer of three of the four boats in the current trials, yet is hounded by Chance-at every turn. For example, Intrepid was hailed as a superboat in the 1967 defense only to be turned over to Chance for alterations in 1970 after Stephens began work on Valiant. "I was disappointed to see Intrepid modified," Stephens says with a proprietary air that, for him, borders on fierceness. "She'd been successful and was a yardstick of our progress in 12-meter design. With her lines changed, we lost our bench mark."
Stephens had even more cause to fret when Intrepid trounced Valiant in the '70 trials. Characteristically, Chance promotes the notion that he upstaged the old master. "Sure it was a triumph," he says. "I took an older boat and improved her."
Stephens emphatically disagrees. In his view Chance slowed down Intrepid, but the older sloop won anyway in '70 because, by Stephens' own admission, Valiant was not up to snuff. Given another crack at Intrepid, which must be suffering from schizophrenia by now, Stephens has all but restored her to her 1967 lines. To confuse matters further, Valiant landed in the Mariner syndicate, and Chance wound up altering another Stephens creaation. Talk about schizophrenia, the latest revisions have put Valiant back approximately to her 1970 Stephens configuration. So the early superiority of Courageous and Intrepid plus the restoration of Valiant put Stephens a long way up on Chance at the moment.
For Olin Stephens to get anywhere with Courageous, however, it was necessary to survive some rough going. For a few days last winter fund-raising troubles brought construction to a halt. A reorganization got things rolling again, but not before business commitments forced Bill Ficker, winning helmsman on Intrepid in 1970, to withdraw as skipper. He was succeeded by Bob Bavier, who is no stranger to last-minute calls. In 1964 Constellation had been floundering when Bavier was put in command. The Stephens-designed sloop won the trials and defended the cup by taking four straight races from Britain's Sovereign.
It was with equal dispatch that Bavier showed up at last month's New York Yacht Club regatta on Long Island Sound and guided Courageous to two straight wins over Mariner in the informal competitive debuts of both boats. Then the Courageous crew settled comfortably into Hammersmith Farm, the Hugh D. Auchincloss Newport estate and sometime childhood home of Jacqueline Onassis. It is a splendid place, surrounded by sloping lawns and set on high bluffs overlooking the bay, and Bavier seemed slightly embarrassed to be there.
"We're not spoiled rich boys up here to enjoy the summer," Bavier said as he left Hammersmith one morning bound for the docks. Behind the wheel of his courtesy-of-Mike-Bove El Camino, he spoke feelingly of the America's Cup. "It's a fantastic sports event," he said. "More time, money and talent go into it than any other sailing race. And the fact that the cup has never been lost gives it excitement. It also creates responsibilities. Nobody wants to be the first to lose it. We're here to do a job."
The mission thus described allows for no complacency. Even after Mariner was vanquished on Long Island Sound, Olin Stephens proposed moving Courageous' mast eight inches aft. Bavier, playing the devil's advocate, said, "We looked pretty good on the Sound, Olin. You really want to do this?"
"You bet I do," snapped the designer. The mast was moved.
Mariner's organizers at least were spared major financing problems. They assigned ownership of their boat to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy—hence the name Mariner—in an arrangement that presumably makes contributions tax-deductible. Courageous' backers had loftily rejected a similar scheme as "inappropriate." It seemed somehow fitting that Mariner's crew was staying in Newport at Salve Regina College, which was also playing host to a retreat for 400 disciples of Swami Satchidanandaji Maharaj. But the sailors and the yogis never met. The guru's followers kept to themselves, observing silence and seeking bliss through meditation.
The men of Mariner were meditative, too, none more deeply than Ted Turner. Mariner's skipper is one of the ablest sailors on the sea, but between his cleft chin and mustache is a mouth that never stops. Aboard his own boats, Turner exhorts his crews, quotes from Vergil and endlessly paints the air blue. He has compiled a brilliant ocean-racing record and has twice been named U.S. yachtsman of the year.