SPORTS

The race for the America’s Cup begins

Hal Quinn June 27 1983
SPORTS

The race for the America’s Cup begins

Hal Quinn June 27 1983

The race for the America’s Cup begins

SPORTS

Hal Quinn

Down the hill from the mansions— “cottages” as any well-heeled Newport, R.I., resident would call them—past the squid-jiggers on the bridge to Goat Island and behind the locked chain link fence at State Pier Number 9, the men of the Canada 1 team preparing for the triennial America’s Cup challenge worked furiously last Thursday on a 90-foot aluminum mast cradled on a string of old sawhorses. The mast had snapped May 29 during a training run off Rhode Island Sound. The 20-foot replacement section had arrived from Kingston, Ont., only last Monday, and the first elimination race of the summer-long trials was only two days away. The eleventh-hour refit by all hands that went on around the clock typified Canada’s first attempt in 102 years to claim yachting’s most prestigious title. And if the Canadians attracted only mild curiosity from the bluebloods up the hill, at least they have won the hearts of the squid-jiggers.

Otherwise, denizens of the exclusive seaside community are agog at the prospect of seven yachts from five nations vying for an opportunity to attempt

what has been impossible since 1851: wresting the America’s Cup from the prestigious New York Yacht Club (NYYC). Three NYYC boats—Liberty, Defender and Courageous—will race throughout the summer for the honor of representing the United States. Meanwhile, yachts from Australia, Britain, Canada, France and Italy last week began two months of trials to determine the challenger in the first race of the finals against the NYYC on Sept.13.

The successful challenger will sail a minimum of 55 races in three series of round robins leading up to the finals. With Toronto’s Terry McLaughlin at the helm, and equipped with a discarded mast, Canada 1 lost its first encounter Saturday, by two minutes and 40 seconds, against the Royal Perth’s imposing entry, Australia II.

Up on the hill the monstrous summer homes of the Vanderbilts, Morgans and Van Allens stand as faded testimony to a bygone era of monopolies and the absence of trade unions. In turn, the sleek 12-Meter yachts in the contest for the Cup that the Americans took from the British 132 years ago are symbols of well-oiled financial syndicates and the magnificent obsessions of multi-

millionaires of the new age.

The Canadians, in contrast to their competitors, arrived for the summer pageant with tattered carpet bags and an organization fuelled by populist fund-raising campaigns across the country to raise a budget of $5 million. Organizers estimate that an additional $1 million must be raised to pay for a new mast, which is scheduled to arrive next week, and to support the team throughout the competition.

The Italians have no such money worries. Italy’s first Cup entrant, Azurra, has the fourth Aga Khan as patron. The 44-year-old Karim El Husseini Shah, spiritual leader of 15 million Ismaili Moslems and one of the world’s richest men, spent only an hour on the phone to enlist the financial support of 17 of Italy’s leading corporations for the nation’s $5-million investment. In Newport, wrought iron gates 15 feet high guard the winding driveway to the Italian crew’s domicile—a replica of Wakehurst Castle in England. After each day’s sailing the crew rests in hand-carved oak-panelled rooms, trimmed at the ceiling with hand-tooled Moroccan leather.

Meanwhile, the Canadians have set-

tied into the century-old Sherman House, now a college dormitory in the off-season. The accommodation is serviceable and comparatively inexpensive.

Canada’s entry was three years in the planning. In mid-1980 the originator of the Canadian challenge, Calgary lawyer Marvin McDill, lined up supporters and registered the Secret Cove Yacht Club at a dock and crumbling shack on Half Moon Bay, north of Vancouver. It was

another four months before the aristocrats of the NYYC, keeper of the Cup, deigned to accept the challenge. The delay set back fund-raising plans—some sponsors dropped out—and posed serious challenges for boat designer Bruce Kirby, a Canadian who now lives in Connecticut. “I did not get the green light until December, 1981,” he said last week. “So I really designed the boat in 2V2 months. That is ludicrous.” Added Kirby: “I was working alone, but I had about a third of the time that is normally taken. Usually it is a fouror fiveman operation over seven or eight months. Next time I would like a ljttle longer.”

Throughout the saga—four crew members actually helped Kirby finish the boat at McConnell Marine in Parry Sound, Ont.—time and money worries have been constant companions. Kirby, best known as the designer of the world-famous Laser, is now philosophical. Siiice the boat first hit the water last November, he notes, there have not been any changes to the exterior of Canada 1. “Maybe if we had more time and money,” said Kirby, “we would be foolish enough to make changes that would be unwarranted.”

With no lack of money, the British have not shied from changes. With $8 million in financing organized by English merchant banker Peter de Savary, 39, the men in blue-and-gold shirts— their irreverent flag bears a cartoon bulldog flashing a Churchillian victory salute—have narrowed a four-yacht fleet to one boat, Victory 83, launched in April. For energy in the crunch, de Savary has laid in 5,000 chocolate bars for the crew. He aims to socialize by

hosting a ball on July 16 and staging cricket matches between various national crews the next day, with Prince Andrew in attendance.

The Italians countered by throwing a Casa Italia night last week. The Americans plan their own ball Aug. 20, but with a decidedly competitive twist: a $150-a-plate charge designed to help fund their defence of the Cup. It is not that the Americans are short of funds. The battle of the three U.S. yachts will cost an estimated $8 million before the finals even begin. Skipper Dennis Connor, who defended the last challenge in 1980 with Freedom, has another worthy candidate in Liberty. The second U.S. syndicate, also with a budget of more than $4 million, has two boats entered in the U.S. trials: Defender and skipper Tom Blackaller’s Courageous, previously owned by Atlanta cable TV maverick Ted Turner and winner of the Cup in 1974 and 1977.

Despite the patina of amiability that marks the Cup, competitive juices are flowing freely. “People keep saying that no one has ever won the Cup,” says Kirby. “Well, the Americans have won it every time.” One reason, he argues, is the demanding selection process. Between last Saturday and Aug. 6 the foreign challengers will meet in a series of three round robin races. The three boats with the fewest wins are “excused” from further competition. The four remaining yachts then enter the semifinals, Aug. 11 to Aug. 22, racing each other three times. The two lowest-scoring yachts are eliminated. Next, the two finalists race a best four of seven final series to determine which boat will face the U.S. defender in a best of seven series beginning Sept. 13. Says Kirby: “In the challenge series, a breakdown of any consequence means that you lose the race. And if it’s serious you may not make it to the starting line the following day. So you could be the fastest boat out there, but if you have some bad luck, you may not even make it to the finals.”

In the U.S. camp the pace is more languid. A panel of experienced sailors, some of whom have defended the Cup, judge which U.S. yacht should race in the finals. Instead of keeping score, the Americans determine the defender on the basis of promise. “A boat that may be a dog in June,” says Kirby, “may really come on in August and win the last six races. The panel could pick it. They will end up with the best U.S. boat, there’s no doubt about it, whereas the challengers may not.”

In typical insouciant style, the Canadians plan to reciprocate on entertainment with the Dudley Do-right Canada 1 ball-hockey tournament on July 1. That is a contest in which Canada is a clear favorite.