The upcoming challenge promises to be better than most, for which considerable credit goes to Alan Bond. Since he lost four straight with Southern Cross three years ago, he has maintained that what the contest needed was keener competition on the challenge side. Regrettably, this did not come to pass. Australia had three rivals (Gretel II lost in the semis to Sverige) to scrap against in the eliminations, but none could give her the kind of fight that Courageous got from her opponents.
One close race on the 24.4-mile America's Cup course is better training than half a dozen runaways. In that respect, Courageous goes into the challenge with a great advantage over Australia. In most of the 16 races between Australia and her rivals, the time difference at the finish was well over a minute. By contrast, the margin was less than one minute in 22 of Courageous' 32 races. Because Courageous and Australia have never been matched or even had a half-serious set-to on the open seas, no one can speculate about the relative worth of their hulls or sail power or any of the other arcane niceties that naval architects and computer geniuses love to discuss.
It is a contest between a new Australian boat and a successful 3-year-old defender; between a new skipper, Noel Robins, a sailor little known until this year beyond his western shores, and Ted Turner, a man who has won much of his yachting reputation by taking second-hand hulls on to greater glory. Through the summer, Turner fumed and occasionally erupted because the Enterprise syndicate would not allow him to buy sails made by Lowell North or John Marshall, who manages the North Sails loft in Connecticut. Turner is a free thinker, free speaker, free trader. He is sometimes rich in invective against anyone with a narrower attitude, but he remains above all a sportsman. To put it in bird-hunting terms, he would never ground-swat an enemy, but he is not against occasionally blasting away at wrongdoers on the rise. While Enterprise was still riding high, he observed, "On Courageous, our lives aren't at stake, you know. If they lose, Lowell North and John Marshall may not eat for the next three years. I can't think of two guys who deserve to starve more for their unsportsmanlike conduct in refusing to sell us sails. We wouldn't take their sails now as a gift."
When Enterprise lost out, Turner became his usual charitable self. There was a rumor at the time that Enterprise might serve as a trial horse for Australia in the slack period before the challenge. When Australian newsmen asked Turner to comment on the matter, he replied evenly, "In my opinion anybody should be able to sail with anybody. After all, an owl and a pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat." When the selection committee notified him that he was the skipper for the defense, Turner spoke up with a humility that is all too scarce on the America's Cup scene. After thanking Ted Hood for making his sails and redesigning Courageous, and thanking the syndicate management, and thanking just about everybody except the Pope, President Carter and the North Sails company, he said soberly, "Last time seven or eight of us were in the ill-fated Mariner-Valiant campaign, and we wanted to come back to show that we weren't the bunch of hacks we seemed to be then. All it takes is a little boat speed to make anybody look like a hero. Let us not forget that."