Sports

A rich man’s spiritual

John Aitken October 2 1978
Sports

A rich man’s spiritual

John Aitken October 2 1978

A rich man’s spiritual

Sports

John Aitken

Don Green stood in the rain on the U.S. Coast Guard wharf at Harbor Beach, Michigan, watching as his crew struggled with the tangled shrouds and twisted metal that remained of Evergreen’s 56-foot, $18,000 mast, betrayed by an $11 below-decks fitting called a chainplate. Dave Downey, his only paid hand, attacked the fractured stump with a hacksaw; others went at the

shrouds with wire cutters. Green had invested between $300,000 and $400,000 and close to two years of his life in the contest for the Canada’s Cup.

That was Wednesday, when things were looking dismally bad for the Canadian entry in this year’s cup series, run in six races on Lakes St. Clair and Huron. After beating the American Agape in the first two races, she’d run aground in the third and now was dismasted in the fourth. But Green’s crew rallied to take races five and six by Saturday and

claim the 82-year-old cup amid a flurry of protests from the Agape. A fitting climax to a series during which the protest code flag “Bravo” flew almost as often as the spinnakers.

“We’d gained a half-mile lead and we were only a few hours from winning,” Green said of the fourth race, “and one chainplate let go and the mast came down with a tremendous crack. The crew had been up all night and sailed an excellent race, just a spectacular race.”

Between the third and fourth leg of the 240-mile long-distance race, Evergreen widened her lead to nearly five minutes and the 41-foot, radically designed Cuthbertson & Cassian two-tonner was pounding upwind at about eight or nine knots. With three quarters of the twice-around, triangular course behind them and barely 60 miles to go, the men had good reason to anticipate a champagne dinner. Instead they had to wrestle the 760-pound mast onto the deck of the boat as it wallowed and rolled in heavy waters. Then came the slow engine-run to Harbor Beach, and a second frantic 48 hours of repairs.

Green was right. It has been a spectacularly exciting race right from the start, 24 hours earlier, when Terry Kohler’s Agape outmanoeuvred Evergreen in a brief but brilliant tacking duel at the starting line. Evergreen tried to get upwind of the American boat—the favored starting positionbut Agape luffed her sails, spilling the wind to slow down and prevent Evergreen from getting past her. Evergreen was forced to tack down to the leeward end of the line while Agape just bore away, to a clear lead of six lengths. The manoeuvre left seasoned big-boat racing men breathless.

As the boats plunged into the race, Agape immediately hoisted her spinnaker, Evergreen hoisted hers. Suddenly Agape’s tore in half. The crew made a fast recovery, hoisting another in about a minute. Just moments later Evergreen not only returned the favor by tearing her spinnaker, but lost a staysail overboard which dragged the Canadian boat to a near standstill. Evergreen ’s crew made a poor recovery, struggling to retrieve the staysail from the water, then, SV2 minutes later, hoisting another spinnaker.

There are two forms of competition for sailboats—fleet racing and match racing.

Fleet racing is simply a matter of determining which group of boats can sail the course in the shortest time. Strategies there are, and protests, but it

is essentially a straightforward affair, generally conducted in good humor.

In match racing, only two boats compete and there is no advantage—and there may be much risk—in simply attempting to beat the other boat to the next mark. It is a game of interference and the object is not so much to win as to prevent your opponent from winning. This leads to exhausting feinting duels

as the trailing boat—by tacking to windward or jibbing to leeward—attempts to slip out from the dominance of the lead boat. Each time the trailing boat manoeuvres, the lead boat mirrors it, always heading the other further off course, always staying between its adversary and the mark (turning point).

Thus match racing, like jousting, is personal warfare. Cloaked in ritual and the sometimes strained camaraderie of moneyed sportsmanship, it remains a duel between two men; drawing them, their crews, families, friends, and associates into a rapidly escalating battle of wit, skill and low cunning. All of this takes place within the elaborately polite and studiously jovial atmosphere of the yacht club. It gets messy sometimes but it’s rarely dull.

Evergreen won the first two 17-mile events and likely would have won the third, a 75-mile middle-distance race, had she not run aground and broken her daggerboard, a liftable fin which draws a whopping nine feet when fully extended. Agape's fixed keel draws a foot less depth. Don Green was furious over the grounding and immediately lodged a protest—sailing’s form of litigationcontending the course had been unwisely chosen. “We were raced over a course which had as little as 11 feet of water at one of the marks,” he said. “Three to six foot waves made this too shallow to be safe.” But the race committee, headed by Konstantine Cost of Detroit, ruled that since Green had neglected necessary paperwork in lodging the protest, it couldn’t be heard. The matter was shelved if not forgotten. Cost had also been miffed when Green, demanding that the daggerboard be repaired at the manufacturer’s Oakville plant, sought an extra day’s delay before racing resumed. “Detroit,” huffed Cost, “is North America’s most industrialized city and anything Evergreen needs can be found here.” He was overruled by the international jury. Doubtless had Green needed a new carburetor Detroit could have supplied one, but the mould for a new 500-pound lead foot for the daggerboard was in Oakville.

When Evergreen was dismasted she forfeited the fourth race and the score stood at 3 to 2 for Agape, with two more 17-mile events remaining to decide the cup. Green lost yet another protest after the dismasting. One of the mark boats in the race was six miles out of position. The protest was dismissed on the grounds that since Evergreen couldn’t have finished the race it didn’t make any difference. And again Kon-

stantine Cost attempted to intervene by demanding that racing be resumed on the Thursday. He was overruled, giving Green a single day for remeasurement and tuning.

It smacked of the protests and measurement calls that beleaguered Evergreen during preliminary trials against Paul Phelan’s contender, Mia VI, held at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto last summer. Mia VI demanded a pre-race measure of Evergreen's daggerboard, which was his right. But the finely articulated daggerboard has to be removed for measurement, and it takes at least a day’s sailing after it’s put back in its slot to get the feel of the boat again. Pure gamesmanship. Evergreen won anyway to go on to further hassles and battles in Detroit.

At one point in the Toronto trials feelings ran so high that a scheduled RCYC reception for the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club crew of Evergreen was cancelled, a snub that left Don Green smarting for months. But the RCYC, one of the most exclusive sailing clubs in the world, resented the upstart from Ham-

ilton who threatened and claimed the right to compete for the Canada’s Cup. For 82 years the RCYC dominated the Canada’s Cup and believed that a club tradition had become inviolable.

A similar snub occurred at the Port Huron Yacht Club when wives and companions of Evergreen's crew and supporters were sitting in the lounge. Local club members had planned a bash for the Agape people, but when club members arrived they greeted their guests as “the Evergreen groupies” and asked them to leave. Thus the battle is pursued afloat and ashore, in ways both admirable and dubious.

Attempting to rise above the bickering which is such an integral part of the sport—and successfully, it seemed— were Terry Kohler of Sheboygen, Wis., and Don Green of Hamilton, Ont. They equipped themselves with radically different but well-matched boats operated by crack crews, and gave everything they had and then some for the privilege of representing their countries in one glorious series of races.^