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If early foot counts for anything in this America's Cup year, score points for Ted Turner, helmsman of the 12-meter Mariner now abuilding as a potential cup defender. First the salty Atlantan defeated this hemisphere's best One Ton racing fleet ever in the North American championships—and in a borrowed boat. Then he received kudos as Martini & Rossi's Yachtsman of the Year for 1973. This week he sails into the Southern Ocean Racing Conference series in his own One-Tonner (page 44), which finished second overall a year ago.
So Turner has some momentum going, while the man assumed to be his chief opponent for the defense berth, Bob Bavier, skipper of Courageous, bides his time and lets the headlines fall where they may. It was Bavier who did some of the most wondrous catch-up sailing in cup trial history back in 1964 by taking over Constellation and routing the favored American Eagle, so Turner may need all the foot he can fetch.
In the One Ton, sailed off St. Petersburg, Turner displayed the uncanny sea sense that has been his forte. The mystery was not that he hopped into a strange boat and won, but that topflight no-handicap racing had taken so long to catch on in the United States. For years Europeans have enjoyed it, as have Australians and New Zealanders. Yet until recently America disdained it, preferring multiclass events like the Southern circuit, the Bermuda race and the Transpac to Honolulu. Classless racing belonged to the small-boat boys.
But suddenly at St. Petersburg it became big time. Said a crewman who had sailed in last year's world One Ton championship off Sardinia, "The competition over there was hot, but nothing like what we have here. There are 20 boats that could win."
It should be made clear at once that One Ton does not mean that each boat weighs a ton, but that when such things as sail area, hull dimensions—and maybe the captain's hat size—are fed into a computer, each boat must figure out to a certain numerical rating, for which One Ton is sailing shorthand. At St. Petersburg boats ranged in length from 32 feet to 39, displacements ran from 11,500 pounds up to 22,000. Though varied, the boats were all equal under the rules, so they raced without the complicated handicap ratings, necessary as they are, that clutter up conventional events.
Turner skippered Robin, a sloop designed by the Marblehead sailmaker Ted Hood, instead of his own tiller-steered Lightnin' because Robin is wheel-steered like a 12-meter and Turner wanted to begin to regain his touch at a wheel. He also wanted to cement a working relationship with Hood, whose sails will outfit Mariner. Aboard Robin with Turner was an all-star lineup that will move on to Mariner, including Hood's aide Rob-by Doyle and, in the sensitive and demanding navigator position, the esteemed Rich DuMoulin.
Robin is not just any old tub with a couple of strings to pull. Among other fancy gadgets she has a centerboard that not only slides up and down but also side to side, a rudder that lifts and a special, bendy mast. Arrayed against her were custom and stock boats to delight a connoisseur. There were, for example, two sloops designed by young Doug Peterson, the bearded Californian who, operating on a shoestring, had come close to winning the Sardinia world title with Ganbare. These Ganbare look-alikes were Country Woman and Magic Twanger, the latter—so new her paint had hardly dried—with one of America's most accomplished skippers, Lowell North, in the cockpit. At St. Petersburg, alas, the One Ton did not provide much of the beating and running the Ganbares revel in.
The novelty of the fleet was Terrorist, a 35-footer painted Porsche silver, with her name in screaming yellow script on each side. To port and starboard were a pair of bilgeboards, the work of Designer Bruce King. When the boat is heeled the leeward board is lowered, but not at a normal centerboard angle, i.e., in the same vertical plane as the boat. Instead, the board drops more or less straight down, perpendicular to the water's surface—an ideal angle in relation to the heeled hull.
Off slowly as Turner & Co. began to get to know her, Robin finished eighth in the opening 30-mile race, then fourth in a 116-mile jaunt. But in the next event, another short one. Turner ripped through the 23-boat fleet to finish first by more than a minute.
Now came a 240-mile haul to Sanibel Island and back, and in thick fog and wispy air the fleet set out under spinnakers beneath the Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay. It vanished into the murk and was not seen again until 2� days later when out of the dark, hard on the wind, appeared Turner and Robin.