Since the good ship America sailed across the ocean to beat a fleet of 14 British yachts in 1851, captains and crews have ventured to Newport, R.I., 24 times attempting to wrest the America’s Cup from the New York Yacht Club. In this summer’s 25th challenge they have come from Australia, Canada, France, Great Britain and Italy. Seven yachts are currently involved in a contest quite unlike anything else in yacht racing. At week’s end they had raced against each other at least six times; had each completed 40 races, and an alleged spy scandal had swept the tony Rhode Island community. Most surprising of all, an unheralded crew and a new yacht from Canada stood in second place among the challengers.
Canada 1 sailed through her first 24 races giving little evidence that she was capable of advancing beyond the elimination series. However, in her last 11 races in Series C, Canada 1 scored eight wins and three losses. Only Perth’s Australia II, unbeaten after 10 races, had a better record. Canada 1 overshadowed boats like Challenge 12 of Melbourne, Australia, Victory 83 of Britain, Azzurra of Italy, Advance of Sydney, Australia, and France 3.
Skipper Terry McLaughlin, 27, of Toronto, had predicted Canada l’s strong performance from the start. McLaughlin said in jest last week, “We had been sandbagging it in the two previous series so that we would look good for the C series.” McLaughlin has added a certain flair to the triennial jousting off Newport. He is now well known for his assortment of colorful “lucky” hats, which he credits for his wins. In fact, after winning several races in a row McLaughlin and his crew do not like to change anything. “We wear the same clothes, the same gear and of course the same hats,” said the skipper.
McLaughlin has established a reputation onshore as well. He participated in a celebrity bartending contest recently, fittingly called the America’s Bartending Cup, and beat out the other four skippers with his locally renowned concoction, the “Canadian Mastbender.” “A joke is always the best way to answer a question,” says McLaughlin. His attitude and those of the entire Canada 1 team were sorely tested when the “Keelgate” affair erupted last week. James Johnston, the team’s 39-year-old tender driver from Victoria, was ar-
rested after he swam beneath the Australia Il’s dock. The yacht’s radical keel has been the chief topic of speculation since this challenge began. Each night the yacht is shrouded in curtains to preserve the design secrets. Johnston carried a camera on his underwater mission and guards called the local police, who charged him with trespassing. The Australia II syndicate further alleged
that he was spying. In Newport District Court the trespassing charges were dismissed after the Canada 1 syndicate promised to apologize, which it did the following day. Johnston left the court last Wednesday, climbed on his bicycle and waved a “We’re number 1” finger at the crowd as he rode off. After the incident McLaughlin suggested, “We should surround the keel of Canada 1
with hockey nets so that the Australians can’t see it.” He went on to dismiss Keelgate as a joke: “We were actually going to spy on the Americans but we got caught swimming under Australia’s keel. We were only taking a shortcut.”
As for the actual racing, McLaughlin is deadly serious but he never seems to worry about whether he is winning or losing. After his yacht won five races in succession, he said: “Even after you have won a few races you still have to think you are losing. If you go out there and race defensively, you will lose for sure.” There is sufficient evidence for hope. If Canada 1 can maintain the second-place standing, the yacht will make it into the finals in late August. The designer of Canada 1, Bruce Kirby, a former journalist who designed the famous Laser, said, “We have just as good a yacht as anyone else in Newport, except maybe Australia II.”
The impressive Canada 1 standing has been hard won. Only days before the races began on June 18, Canada l’s mast broke. The syndicate could not afford to replace it, and the crew spliced the mast together with another piece of aluminum and sailed on. When a new mast arrived, Canada 1 encountered other problems with several pieces of rigging. The headboard car, a piece of steel at the top of the mainsail that helps hold up the sail, repeatedly broke out of its locked position. The failure caused the Canadians to lose three races. The most recent problem came last week, when Canada 1 had no mainsail for the last leg of the race with Victory 83 and lost—only to win later on a protest. Luck has sided with Canada 1 in the protest room on three occasions.
Moving into the final races of Series C, Canada 1 has beaten every yacht except Australia II. Bruce Kirby believes that recent changes in the boat have helped. The keel was altered slightly and the new mast was moved forward. The changes were minor, but they were significant in a competition in which races are won and lost by margins of less than one one-hundredth of a mile per hour.
The fine tuning will be more critical as the series narrow to the ultimate confrontation with the U.S. defender. It is now mathematically impossible for Advance and France 3 to qualify for the semifinals, leaving five yachts for four places in the next round. Canada 1 was well placed at week’s end. Victory 83 and Challenge 12 had to win two more races than the Canadians in the last six. Should Canada 1 advance to the fouryacht semifinals, which begin Aug. 11, it will be an unexpected achievement and one that not a few derided when the Canadian challenge was launched in Calgary three years ago.
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