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THE ULTIMATE TRIUMPH
George Plimpton
October 29, 1956
'Ranger,' the crowning glory of a great tradition; the mystery of her design revealed; a near disaster; a decisive victory; exaltation in a violent sea
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October 29, 1956

The Ultimate Triumph

'Ranger,' the crowning glory of a great tradition; the mystery of her design revealed; a near disaster; a decisive victory; exaltation in a violent sea

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There is the suspicion, listening to Vanderbilt describe that race, that it means more to him than any of his career. It is the only race in which one can sense in Vanderbilt's description that the tonic of yacht racing is not solely for him a matter of beating a competitor across the finish line. Usually Vanderbilt describes a race in the dry factual terms one expects from such a precise competitor. And in pointing out an example of happenstance it is in materialistic terms that he starts to describe the Enterprise-Weetamoe race in 1930. But something happens midway in his description. He drifts away from his dry facts, seized by memories of that stormy sail. No romanticizer, Vanderbilt tries to bring himself back on course by saying: "Now, the most important thing about that race was that Weetamoe was pinching." But when he continues, one suspects that racing that day was to him secondary to the sport of sailing itself—that it was of small concern that Weetamoe was on the same ocean. "No one who was aboard that day will ever forget it," Vanderbilt goes on to say, and with his account of sailing the windward leg comes the realization that those minutes were the most memorable of his career, that on that day he caught the hairline balance, the sense through the wheel that the boat was driving at top speed: constant and unchanging, imparting to all aboard the sensation of life and power. It was uncomfortable sailing, the bow pounding into the head seas, sending the spray flying over the weather side in blinding sheets, but in it was an unforgettable exhilaration.

But it is a rare instance—this departure from character. Vanderbilt is not a man to occupy his mind with reminiscence. He is too actively engaged in his present-day activities: in the management of his Virginia farm, in his interest in Vanderbilt University, and in the dedication he gives to bridge—an intense preoccupation which has brought to the green felt of the bridge table the same astounding success, incompatible though the two activities may seem, that he enjoyed in yachting.

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