In spite of my objections to the way the committee operated, however, I should make one thing clear: Given what they had to look at, I think the committee made the correct decision in choosing Liberty. But if things had been different, the committee might have had more and better boats to choose from. Therein lies the rest of the sad tale.
The committee, in the person of Bob McCullough, repeatedly said to me and to members of the Defender/Courageous syndicate, "Anything we can do to help you, we'll do. Just tell us what you want us to do." The only thing we asked them to do was, please, organize races between the Defender/Courageous group and Conner's group, first in September '82 and then in March '83, to measure the progress of the boats. We got absolutely nowhere. In September '82, the four boats would have been Defender and Courageous, Freedom and Spirit. It would have taught us all a lot. Because Freedom would have killed Defender in any kind of breeze at all, it would have taught us what a dog Defender was in heavy weather, possibly early enough to have done something about it. It would have taught Dennis, right off the bat, how slow both Freedom and Spirit were downwind, because Defender would have blitzed them. And Liberty, which was in the design stage at the time, could have been approached with that in mind. Since, as it turned out, Liberty's downwind weakness was her downfall, the decision not to race may have been critical.
Even if we had raced in March 1983, after Liberty had been launched, her poor downwind performance would have been obvious, and the money and effort of the Conner group could have been concentrated on solving the problem. It would have been a simpler proposition to make Liberty faster downwind than to make Defender better upwind.
So, why did the New York Yacht Club not do as we asked, since clearly it was in the club's best interest to do so? It could have. It could have demanded that all the American boats meet in a U.S. 12-meter championship, or even a California 12-meter championship. Our winter camps in San Diego and Newport Beach, Calif. were only 80 miles apart. We could have gotten all four boats together in one day. But the committee wouldn't do it because Conner wouldn't do it. He wouldn't budge, and they wouldn't take it upon themselves to budge him. Conner sat there, thinking he knew everything, that he had all the knowledge and we had none, and that all that would happen if we raced was that we would learn from him, thereby improving our chances of beating him and decreasing his of beating us. Now that, to me, is totally unsporting. Maybe I'm not tough enough about trying to win. I mean, I love to win, but I want to win knowing that I've done my best against people who've done their best. But some people don't sail that way. They guard all their little secrets, but I think it's wrong, dead wrong.
Both Jobson and I knew that those races were critical, not only to our effort but to the whole American effort. We pleaded with our syndicate managers to try to make something happen. No way. With hindsight, one thing becomes clear: When those races didn't get off, the Cup was gone.
But the greatest and most obvious failure of the entire American effort was in the area of design. In the end, we all suffered from an excess of conservatism. In our case, the error was in thinking we could sail our way to victory and therefore not budgeting enough money at the beginning to do an even adequate job of exploring the possibilities of a radical design. In the case of Conner and his group, they started off on the right track. They knew they had to find a better boat because the foreigners might come up with a better boat, and so they budgeted a godawful amount of money—I would estimate $5.5 million—to find that boat. They built three new boats, trying to improve on what they had left from 1980. Two of them, Spirit and Magic, they discarded. But the Conner group didn't have the engineering talent to pull it off. Whether Conner picked the wrong guys, or those guys picked the wrong parameters to investigate, or whether they just weren't capable of forward enough thinking isn't clear, but in my opinion, part of the problem was that Conner himself is conservative with regard to boat design. So am I. I think Dennis also felt he didn't really have to have a radical boat, that his sailing ability, his crew and its experience were enough. It's obvious that he didn't get a radical boat because Liberty, designed by Johan Valentijn, was the final attempt at a new boat and was nothing more than Freedom in disguise. Dennis knew, as Jobson and I did, although we failed to convince the rest of our syndicate, that the committee wouldn't pick an old boat. So he built a boat that was little, if any, better than Freedom, which he had won with in 1980.
This failure to experiment with an advanced concept may well date back to 1974 when Britton Chance, an established designer with a good imagination, thought up Mariner to compete against Intrepid and Courageous in the American trials. Mariner was a radical departure from the 12-meters of that day, and she also turned out to be radically slow. Almost like Advance, the Australian entry that was the dog of the 1983 challenger trials, Mariner ended up as a joke, and Chance's career suffered as a result. From that point on, all American Twelves have been of fairly conventional design. New ideas have had trouble flourishing, particularly since success with conventional designs had come so easily for so long. There seemed to be no need to go out on a limb.
The 12-meter rule, which was devised in 1906, is very strange. Ben Lexcen didn't miraculously discover a principle of hydrodynamics that suddenly would make boats go faster. What he discovered was a quirk within the rule that made a boat of a certain design—one with wings on the keel and a particular waterline and a large sail area and all that—work. It was a miraculous discovery, all right, but only within the confines of that very restrictive rule.
I think having the world's so-called premier yachting event held in these behemoths, the 12-meters, is stupid, but it's tradition. I'm not saying tradition is stupid, but I am saying that a lot of valuable development could be achieved if the America's Cup were sailed under another rule, even the International Offshore Rule, which assigns a handicap allowance to each boat. At least that was written in 1970. But the Australians make the rules now, and at this stage, holding as they do a huge edge in 12-meter technology, they'd be fools to switch to anything else. Alan Bond paid a lot for that edge, and he is certainly no fool.
However, I digress. I have blamed the New York Yacht Club, and I have blamed Dennis Conner. Now it's time to examine the failures of the Defender/Courageous syndicate and my own part in those failures.