Senior Writer Coles Phinizy has been in another plane crash since we last wrote about him, and he walked away unscathed. So what else is new? The plane crash was his fourth; put it on the list with the time Phinizy was attacked by a red kangaroo in Australia and his 4,200-foot fall in a deflating balloon in New Jersey.
But to depict Phinizy's life as the sum of his mishaps is unfair; even he spends most of his time out of trouble. In Newport, R.I., for example, where he has spent all summer covering the America's Cup preliminaries—his story on the selection of this year's challenger and defender begins on page 24—almost nothing has happened to him. "I spend the vast majority of my time staring at boats that aren't doing very much," says Phinizy, who will cover his third Cup defense later this month. Such curmudgeonly asides aside, the summer has not been without its pleasures for Phinizy, whose great passion is being in and around water.
He got a late start on his element, though. As a boy in Augusta, Ga., the only water he knew of was in a few small creeks and ponds. There wasn't much of it, and it was reddish-brown. In school, when asked to color water he selected a brown crayon and was amazed when the teacher said, "No, no, water is blue." At 9 he built a raft but never got it the few miles from his home to the Savannah River, and as for fishing, a carpenter used to cut crude fish for him from wood, and young Coles would drag them in the dry gutter beside his driveway. Then, when Coles was 11, the Phinizys moved to the New Jersey shore, where his bedroom window was 120 feet from the surf at high tide and his pillow often damp with sea spray.
Though he was a lifeguard at 17 and at 18 rode a motorcycle inside a barrel at county fairs, he had no accidents until he broke his cheekbone playing football at Harvard. And it was not until he came to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and the balloon let him down in 1954 that he really hit his stride. Suddenly, wherever Phinizy went, things burned up, fell down or exploded.
Last week, in Newport, still O.K. as we went to press, Phinizy reminisced about his first sailing experience. As a sophomore at Harvard, he found himself aboard the 40-foot sloop of a wealthy classmate, and in the evening, as they headed into Marblehead Harbor, he sniffed the air and announced, "I smell porpoises." "There are no porpoises around here," someone scoffed, whereupon three of them broke water off the starboard bow.
"That's when I first realized that there's something deadly serious and one-dimensional about ocean racing that I don't like, and I see it here in Newport," Phinizy says. "These people have lost the ability to enjoy the sea, if they ever had it. They've got what I call racing blinders. If a purple gull landed on one of their heads, they wouldn't even notice it."
Of course, Phinizy himself gets pretty serious at Newport: even the New York Yacht Club, which runs the Cup races, has referred to his voluminous reportage; he records every tack of every boat in every race. Nevertheless, he would notice if a purple gull landed on his head. And Phinizy being Phinizy, one just might.