SI Vault
 
SMILING WIZARD OF THE CUP DEFENSE
Gilbert Rogin
September 10, 1962
Bus Mosbacher's big grin has iron and experience behind it, and he'll need both to defend the 111-year-old tradition of the cup America has never lost
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 10, 1962

Smiling Wizard Of The Cup Defense

Bus Mosbacher's big grin has iron and experience behind it, and he'll need both to defend the 111-year-old tradition of the cup America has never lost

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

"What I demand most in a member of my crew is thought, the ability to think of what he's going to do next," Mosbacher has said. "I want a good seaman, but he also has to be intelligent, a nice person who'll give me no backwater, temperament or excitability. Of course, he can't be lacking in a degree of physical agility or strength. I know this sounds like the Boy Scout oath. The most important thing is the ability to work together. I'm not interested in brawn or reputation. I sailed with all but two of our crew before this summer. That's the sign of a misspent youth, I guess; you meet a lot of people. And I've had the same 10 guys with me since we started in May. One of the boats had 30-odd people on and off it."

There is no question of the loyalty of Weatherly's crew. "If one of us honchos goofs," says Romagna, "he says to the guy next to him, 'Give me a knife. I want to cut my throat.' "

"There were some mistakes when we first started racing," Crewman Don Matthews recalls. "We'd foul up something and only those who knew Bus could sense the displeasure. There was no yelling, no threats, no curses. [Mosbacher is incapable of shouting. In fact, his voice is so mild his commands have to be relayed forward.] Bus would say, 'We're going to jibe the spinnaker just as we get to the mark. I'll give the word and I know we'll do a much better job this time.' It wasn't much, only a bit of assurance that our crew was better than we thought it was. It was also a small tip that we had better be better, just a small hint that the jibe could be completed better than it had been, and all the time he has that friendly smile on his face. You know we did it better the next time and even better than that later."

Vic Romagna remembers a disastrous day in the trials this summer when a spinnaker went into the water. "I rushed back to the stern to get it hauled aboard," Romagna says, "feeling terrible at having let Bus down. He gave me a tight little smile as I passed. 'Don't jump!' he said."

"Bus's crew has confidence in him both as a sailor and as a man," says Teddy Hood, skipper of Nefertiti and the celebrated sail designer; Hood sails are also on Weatherly and Gretel. ' "Weatherly," Hood argues, "is 50% Mosbacher. He might even have brought Easterner [which won only one race] into the finals. He has concentration and experience. Some people have the experience but can't concentrate. He has more experience than the rest of us to call on for every little thing that comes up. The fellow that writes the book on yacht racing may not be the best sailor. It's the fellow that remembers what's in it and can apply this knowledge at the right time."

"Most of yacht racing," Mosbacher says, "is study, work and development. There are no radical breakthroughs, like suddenly discovering you can hit a golf ball farther if you use the back of your club. It is a combination of chess and bridge, with a certain amount of physical ability thrown in. It is tactics, strategy, organization and a happy association with nice people. It is also a game of details. [Weatherly's, changes, for instance, are not only in her keel, ballast, stern and boom—Mosbacher and his advisers also systematically removed every bit of excess hardware topside, where weight hurts the most.] Some people think we're overdelegated and overspecialized, but you've got to be precise."

"Bus is a perfectionist," Romagna says. "He doesn't miss a thing. You might not hear about it for two days, but you'll hear about it."

Bus is a diminutive for Buster, a hated nickname he says came home from the hospital with him. He didn't go for Emil, either ("Every kid," he contends, "wants to be named Tom, Dick or Harry") and he told his wife it would be over "my dead body" if she named their first son Emil. She did, of course, and Bus has survived. But he does have positive, if curious, ideas about his kids' education. "I don't think," he says, "a husband should teach his wife to drive any more than he should teach his sons sailing. I'm trying to get them to learn without me. They went to a sailing camp this summer, and they loved it. But, thank God, sailing hasn't developed a population of teachers. It isn't overproed like golf and tennis."

Although Bus has sailed in almost every kind of boat since he first held a tiller at 4½, he considers it a ridiculous question when asked which class he likes the best. "The greatest place to sail is in a dinghy," he says, "but it's like saying which is better—a soufflé, a steak or just a cold glass of water. At different times and in different circumstances you like or want different things. They say you climb a mountain because it is there. Well, this particular mountain is the America's Cup, and a 12-meter is absolutely a magnificent vehicle for this kind of race. It's a tremendously exciting, interesting thing sailing these 12s; it's the sport to the nth degree: design, seamanship, teamwork. But, you know something, with all the sailing I've done, I still sometimes say to myself, even, yes, right in the middle of the elimination series: 'What am I doing here?' "

One afternoon last week Mosbacher sat in his corner office 35 stories above New York's Madison Avenue. From his window he watched the Queen Elizabeth go up the Hudson. It was an omen. The next day he learned that a committee representing marine management, labor and the Maritime Administration had chosen him as the first recipient of a trophy for outstanding seamanship. His acceptance speech will, no doubt, break all records for diffidence.

Continue Story
1 2 3