SI Vault
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
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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

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The first, and quite often the last, impression one has on meeting Emil (Bus) Mosbacher Jr. (left), the skipper of the America's Cup defender Weatherly, is his smile. Our generation has been so wantonly smiled upon and beamed at by its heroes, politicians and Miss Rheingolds that the grin, as an expression of amusement or affection or indeed anything, has become about as worthless as an empty milk container. Mosbacher's smile somehow transcends this toothy prodigality, perhaps because the man himself is a throwback to a more charming, gracious and respectful age. It is singularly radiant, nigh on perpetual and, if its springs are sometimes baffling, it is always, and clearly, well meant.

The first, and quite often the last, impression one has of Mosbacher on reading his infrequent quotes in the newspapers is that he is a well-bred marshmallow. His remarks are characteristically bland, brief and beside the point. Mosbacher has been properly brought up, but he is not an animated marshmallow. Being a gentleman, and highly circumspect, he will never publicly criticize another skipper or boat or, as a matter of fact, say anything that can possibly be construed as rash, controversial or captious.

Mosbacher, in keeping with his style, is also conspicuously modest. The other day, when he was asked why he had rejected a publisher's offer to write a book on sailing technique, he replied: "If you're going to write on a subject you should know it." Bus Mosbacher, as even he must be aware, is considered, at 40, to be the finest helmsman of our time, "We call him The Wizard," says Vic Romagna, Weatherly's foredeck chief and spinnaker man, himself acclaimed the world's best in those departments. "After I've sailed with a man for a time I always can tell what he's going to do next," Romagna says. "I'm seldom wrong with Bus—but then I equivocate. I allow him two or three choices!

"The other boats actually are scared of him. When we come to the line you can see them squirm like eels. Once when we made a mistake and another boat crossed first, her skipper was so shook up he made a mistake and we passed him." ("Starts," Mosbacher has said, serenely, "are of great importance. In a fleet race a good 25%; in a match race, such as the America's Cup, perhaps 50%.")

Mosbacher's sense of decency is as unflagging and natural as his incredible smile. "Bus is the kind of guy you can sit down with while he has five gin and tonics," an acquaintance says, "thinking, at last I'll see the real Mosbacher. but he'll never say one thing that's out of line or knocks a soul. He just keeps right on smiling. You know, I've got to say it: he's really a nice guy!" His discretion is similarly rigorous. He was reluctant, for instance, to let it be known that his 10-year-old son had tears in his eyes when he broke the news to his father that Weatherly had been selected as the cup defender. "Ten-year-old boys aren't supposed to cry," Mosbacher says. "He might be embarrassed."

It was just like Bus not to have been at the Newport Shipyard pier, where Weatherly ties up, when the selection committee launch came alongside with the good word. Although almost everyone on the dock thought Weatherly would be chosen after handily defeating Nefertiti in the final trials for the third straight time, Mosbacher had calmly led his crew to Seafair, the Newport mansion they occupy this summer, instead of standing by. "The feeling was," he says lamely, "that the committee hoped to see us again in a little more breeze. It made for one nice thing, though. I had finished showering when my two older boys [Mosbacher, who is married to the former Patricia Ryan, has three sons: Emil III, 10, Richard Bruce, 9, and John D., 6] bounded into my room, the oldest a step ahead, of course. 'Daddy, Daddy,' they cried, 'you won, you won!' 'I know, I won, sons,' I told them. 'No, Daddy,' they said, 'you were selected!' " And how did Mosbacher feel at that consequential moment? "Well," he answered cautiously, "you remember when you wanted a red bicycle for Christmas real bad, and then Christmas morning finally came and you crept downstairs and there it was?"

When he isn't sailing, Mosbacher works in what he calls "a small family business"—an oil, natural gas and real estate investment concern which was founded by his father, who is now semi-retired. "We consider Dad chairman of the entertainment committee," Bus says. A generous man with little use for newfangled devices, Emil Sr. was delighted when, pinch-hitting for Bus in his New York office this summer, he found that the check-writing machine had made an error. While certainly not Standard Oil, the firm is no "small family business"; Bus and his kid brother Bob, 35, who directs the Houston branch, employ about 100 people. Bob Mosbacher is an outstanding sailor in his own right. In 1958 he won both the Mallory Cup and the Southern Ocean Racing Conference championship.

The brouhaha attending the America's Cup races and the publicity his success has brought him embarrass and distress Mosbacher, although, naturally. he is too courteous to complain about it. He is bewildered when reporters he hardly knows casually stroll into Seafair and join him at the breakfast table. He feels that, as an amateur, he should not be subject to the same invasions of privacy that, say, a Mickey Mantle, who is paid for his heroism, suffers. He won't admit it, but Bus would be just delighted if the cup races could be sailed in his bathtub back home in White Plains, N.Y.

Although Mosbacher has the glowing and, at times, even eerie good nature of a Prince Mishkin or, perhaps more appropriately, a Billy Budd—the smile, for example, seems to indicate an awareness, however naively arrived at, of a joy or goodness beyond common experience—he has iron in him. His triumphs as a sailor—Junior Champion of Long Island Sound, Intercollegiate Champion two years in a row at Dartmouth, dominance in Long Island Internationals after his wartime service in the Navy, canny leadership of Vim in the 1958 cup trials and the SORC title in 1959—are as much due to the way he selects and molds a crew and his qualities of command as to his attention to detail and design, his brilliant starts and his peerless work to windward. "He took an old crock of a boat and made it go," Romagna says, "but, more important, he took 10 guys and molded them together."

"On Weatherly" Mosbacher says firmly, "I like to hear any well-thought-out, reasonable suggestion—once. 'O.K., thank you,' I'll reply. I don't want to hear it again. I may have possession of a bit of information he doesn't have, but I don't want to take the time to explain it. A good crew should serve as assistant eyes, but only to give me information, not to say 'Hey, look at the dame in the yellow bikini.' Well, I guess that's all right, too. I give the only orders. It is not a democracy.

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