America’s Cup Past & Future, part 1

During a St. Francis YC cruise in Sept. ’02, Olin Stephens, Gary Jobson, Bill Ficker, Halsey Herreshoff, and Jory Hinman told stories and offered predictions in two sessions moderated by Dick Enersen.

Day 1Enersen: St. Francis YC members and guests, welcome to the Lighthouse. Sorry for the intense heat but there is nothing we can do about that. Please try to be as comfortable as you can. An organizational note first: you see from the program that there are two forums devoted to America’s Cup, one today and one tomorrow. Rather than break them down by personnel, we’ve decided to include all five of our distinguished guests on both panels and we’ve divided them more or less arbitrarily into today’s talk, which will deal with the history of the America’s Cup and the developments that we’ve all witnessed over the years, and then tomorrow we will talk about the present condition of the Cup and prognostications for its future. When we throw it open for questions, please don’t leap to your feet and ask who is going to win today. We appreciate your cooperation. My name is Dick Enersen and I was lucky enough to play a very, very small part in the America’s Cup in 1964 as a member of the crew of Constellation’s successful defense. It was during that summer that I met three of the members of our panel, Jory Hinman on my far right, Olin Stephens and Halsey Herreshoff, who were all involved that summer in far more important ways than was I. Bill Ficker I came to know in 1970 when we were doing some television for ABC, and Gary Jobson I got to know in 1977 during the successful Courageous campaign. I have decided to ask these guys to share with you some reflections of their experience, and I suppose I should do a little more introducing. Gary, of course, needs no introduction at all. You see him on ESPN all the time. He became well known as an author, speaker and competitive yacht racer beginning in ’77 with Ted Turner on Courageous. Halsey, I think, has more experience in the America’s Cup as a crewmember than anybody I can think of starting in 1958 on Columbia and was involved, I think, in every campaign up through 1983 in Newport when a bad thing happened. He is also the grand nephew of arguably the most famous yacht designer of the 19th century and into the 20th century, Nathanael Herreshoff, the wizard of Bristol, about whom Halsey will talk about in a moment. Bill Ficker is a yacht racer of great renown and, of course, was the successful skipper of the defense in 1970 aboard the remodeled Intrepid. He has another distinction which he is justifiably proud, he is not the only person to have not only defended America’s Cup, but won the Congressional Cup and achieved a Star Gold medal by winning the world championship; there are two people on the planet who have those distinctions--one of them is not here. But Bill is the only human being who has those three accomplishments on his record and he’s also won the Tinsley Island dinghy championship. On my right is just one of the most important people I know, and one of the most wonderful people I know, Olin Stephens II. There must have been a one [first], but I never met him. Olin is here from New Hampshire, where he now lives. I don’t need to tell you he was involved in America’s Cups from 1934, really through the present time, although he hasn’t been an active designer for some years. In addition to being a designer, he sailed on the crew of Ranger in the successful defense of 1936 or 1937. Also on the crew of Columbia in 1958 when the Cup racing resumed in 12- meter yachts. He has written many a number of important books and articles and has a lot to say on design. George Hinman used to be George Hinman ,Jr. when his father was around. His father was a great America’s Cup skipper and syndicate organizer and yachtsman of a very, very high order, as is Jory, who crewed on American Eagle in 1964. Very spirited attempt to defend. Fortunately for me, our boat, designed by Olin, was a little more spirited and we had the chance to go sail against the Brits. Jory did get his chance to defend the Cup in 1967 with Bus Mosbacher on Intrepid and then sailed on Valiant in a less successful effort in 1970. He is the Rear Commodore of the New York Yacht Club and has been very involved in the financial and political side of challenges, including the current one, and I’m sure he will have a lot to say, particularly tomorrow, about the upcoming event. Let’s begin with personal reflections on the Cup. What’s it meant and what has it been like, Gary?Jobson: Well Dick, you asked me at breakfast this morning to tell a story about the Cup that might not have ended up in print and might shed a little light. During my five different America’s Cup campaigns, there is one quick story that comes to mind. It involves a great man from St. Francis YC and I was his tactician on the yacht Defender in 1983, Thomas David Blackaller, Jr. Those of us that all knew Tom and sailed with him, know that he was a man’s man, one of the great sailors this country has ever produced and kind of feisty. The other thing on his resume is he never really liked Dennis Conner. For example, when we would get into a protest with Dennis and go before Commodore Hinman, George’s father, and the other members of the selection committee, Tom had a habit of misspelling Dennis’s name--it would become Denise Conner, for example. Any way to rile him up. On the yacht Defender, we lost to Dennis that summer. They beat us 12-8 with Liberty. But the crew was pretty good and I look back on that crew thinking back that we had this 21-year-old kid who was on the portside of the boat trimming the jib and well, Paul Cayard has gone on to a pretty good career. And on the mainsail, we had Rod Davis who went on to win a gold medal and has been on a lot of campaigns and is quite a great sailor. It was really fun for me to be with these particular guys. So here is the scene set. It is yet another race against Dennis Conner. And Tom, on this day, decides that there is nothing that is going to happen to prevent us from beating Dennis. As we come into the starting area and the two boats start the great circling, Cayard, out of his cockpit, pulls a sledge hammer over his head and starts swinging it around. Davis get a benign hand grenade and holds that up in the air. This is just to let the other team know that we are out for blood. And I’m sitting there gulping, thinking all this is going to do is make them mad. We circle around and as it turns out, Defender ended up doing kind of a timed run right at the committee boat. Dennis got himself stacked up on the line and was trying to luff us out. There is a famous incident back in 1970 that Mr. Ficker might share with us in a particular race when the Australians tried to squeeze them out. It was similar to that. So here is Dennis, almost straight into the wind, luffing up, trying desperately to close the gap between his bow and the committee boat so that Defender, now steaming along at 9 knots on a close-reach heading for the start of the committee boat, can’t get in there. As we are getting closer, you can feel your heart starting to pound a little bit more. This is going to be pretty tight. I had bad visions of the yacht Defender smashing into the race committee’s beloved yacht and smashing it to smithereens or sinking the yacht Liberty or something worse. And so, being the dutiful, careful tactician, it was my suggestion to go for it. Tom, with his silver mane kind of billowing behind his hat and clutching the thing, is seeing Dennis to leeward. But the thing about Liberty is it was going slower--boats when they go head to wind slow down. And Dennis is now going about 3 knots and the question is, is the countdown going to go and the gun go off? Will we have time to squirt through or is it going to be disaster? It is amazing how slow a countdown can be in a situation like this. Eons go by in between each second and I will never forget it. Because by the time our bow got to the committee boat, we were close hauled doing 8.6 knots at this point. The committee boat was a whopping 6 to 12 inches away and there was Conner. Head to wind. Two knots. Still 6 feet away and couldn’t get to us with Blackaller screaming at the top of his lungs, “Ah haaa -- take that Dennis.” I thought that was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever seen in America’s Cup racing. Thank you very much.Herreshoff: Well, it’s always hard to follow Gary, but I’ll tell you, I was on the other boat. (big laugh) I don’t think you told them about the end of the race. (laugh) Dick has asked us to tell a little bit about what the America’s Cup means to us. As he pointed out in the beginning, my grandfather designed a great many of the America’s Cup boats and the family had a boat building company, the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. So I remember as a three-year-old trying to keep up with my brother running up the street when Endeavour, brilliant, vast J-boat was towed into Bristol on a trip from England to get ready for the 1937 Cup. I guess I’ve had a special feeling for the America’s Cup ever since. I had the good fortune to be invited by Commodore Harry Sears, who initiated the post war era of 12-Meters. I was then a Naval officer in Japan and I’m sure a number of you have been officers in the military, so you might be interested in how I got into the America’s Cup. I talked to Commodore Sears and said I’d soon be transferred to the East and I’d like to come some weekends and sail. And he said, ‘Well that won’t do. You’re going to sail with us you’ve got to come full-time. This is serious business.’ He said, ‘Just go to your commanding officer and ask him to let you off for four months from the Navy.’ So I took a deep breath and went to the Captain and said what a neat thing the America’s Cup was. Wouldn’t he give me some special orders? He said, ‘This is an important command of the Navy and we’re not going to have one of our officers go off on a sailboat race.’ So, with great sadness, I told this to Commodore Sears on the phone in Japan. He said, ‘Now don’t you worry. It happens that my former roommate at Harvard is now the Secretary of the Navy.’ So about a week later, the Captain summoned me to his cabin and his attitude had changed remarkably. He said, ‘Herreshoff, I’ve been thinking about this America’s Cup. I think it would be a great honor for our command to have one of our officers in it and I’ve decided to give you four months in Newport.’ So that’s how I came to Newport.Herreshoff: One of the great pleasures of that first experience when I was the bowman on Columbia was to get to know Olin and Rod Stephens. Olin was the navigator and Rod was in charge of the foredeck. And I often tell people that what I learned about naval architecture came from my father and what I learned about sailing from Rod Stephens. He was the absolute best. He was the consummate seaman, practical racer. And I remember one very important race, it is curious that in all these campaigns with the 12-Meters and now the wonderful America’s Cup boats, I think the closest, narrowest contested selection trials was that one that we had in August and early September of 1958. Don’t you think that’s true, Olin? Races won by 2 seconds, 9 seconds. Trained in Olin’s new design and Columbia and his older design Vim, which did so well because it was sailed by the brilliant Bus Mosbacher. So in one race, we were having a very hard tacking duel to the finish. Normally we didn’t finish these races upwind, but in that case we did. And the most awful thing happened as we were just approaching the layline to the finish. The wired sheet got an impossible wrap in the winch and we couldn’t let go of the sheet. Rod Stephens just reached into the cockpit, took his wire cutter, cut the sheet right at the winch and made the most perfect tack you’d ever made across the line beating the other boat by 3 seconds to win a vital win for the selection . . . Herreshoff: Much later, I had a chance to be the navigator of American Eagle, I had a chance to sail with Jory, and then navigated Courageous in 1974 and that probably was the time that I made more of a contribution than any other time because we had a musical chairs cockpit where I was the only one there at the beginning, and also there at the end. And then I had the great pleasure to race with Dennis Conner who is, of course, the most controversial person in the Cup today. I think he is very popular in New Zealand, they love to hate him.Regardless of what you hear about Dennis, his pros and cons, he is the best on the boat. He’s great with his crew. Inspires total support from everybody and what was so great in the campaign in 1980 was that we had such a good program with two similar boats racing together in practice for so many months, that it got so that Dennis could sail the boat like a dinghy. He didn’t even have to say ‘Ready about. We’re going to tack.’ That was one of the greatest pleasures of being involved in those crews, that teamwork was such it finally gets to that point where there’s no inhibition in decisiveness for the skipper and that’s the way it has to be to win.Ficker: It’s a real pleasure to be here and share a few thoughts with you, particularly the way we are set up today to talk a little bit about the past, and then tomorrow to talk about where we are going. As you might guess, Tom Blackaller’s style and mine were quite different. Tom, oddly enough, was a very good friend of mine and a lot of mutual friends always had a hard time figuring that out. But I figured if everybody was like I am, it would be a pretty dull world. Tom Blackaller didn’t let the world be very dull. Rather than talking about the racing, I’d rather talk a little bit about why we did it in those days. Because tomorrow we will be talking about why people are doing it today and it’s quite different. In the days of the 12-Meters, we really did it, I guess, for bragging rights. Everybody that sailed in 12-Meters and sailed in the America’s Cup had to be a pretty good sailor and had won in the Star world championships or a gold medal or had a good reputation and fit your geographic area of racing. But the America’s Cup presented, first of all, an opportunity to represent your nation in a very focused way and also it was probably the only, and even today, is the only major sailing event that people know about. I remember coming back from winning the Star World Championship and being very proud of it and walked into my club the next day to receive congratulations from everybody, and I think the first people I ran into said, ‘Bill we missed you last week. Where have you been?’ Nobody really cared much. The sailing, even today, is pretty much an individual sport. You do it for your own gratification and your friends and your crew. But in the America’s Cup, nationally, people really know what you are doing, it’s publicized and the event itself really transcends the racing. We took a lot of pride in getting the helm of an America’s Cup boat. There was no pay involved in those days. I wouldn’t even take a ticket for an airplane because you didn’t want to be viewed as a paid hand or a hired gun. But that’s all changed and I’m not complaining about that, it’s just that it is very different today. And, of course, the price of doing it has changed dramatically. I ’ve stayed close to the Cup for many years and tomorrow we’ll talk a little bit about how the Cup has changed and how the boats have changed. I had the privilege of chairing the committee that determined what the new boats would be. I’ll want to share that with you.Ficker: We had a few incidents in the America’s Cup and one was almost identical to the one that Gary described. Ours wasn’t as dramatic and as vocal as that one as you can imagine. But we did have an incident with Australia’s Gretel II being closed out or they tried to close us out at the starting mark and actually wound up fouling us. That was called the foul that was heard around the world. It was a major incident in Cup history and it turned out, as we guessed, what had happened is that the Australians just didn’t know the rules. It was obvious that the crew on the boat, most of them, John Bertrand who went on to win the America’s Cup, knew it at that time. He has even written about it in his book. However, Frank Packer, who is head of the syndicate and a newspaperman, tried to get the press to hear the protest rather than the protest committee and the public. We did win that protest but it was kind of interesting and demonstrates some of the nationalism involved and maybe not too much different than today with Iraq and 9/11. We actually got stacks and stacks of telegrams and many of the telegrams thought that we should withdraw or resail the race with the Australians because we’re Americans and we should show an overwhelming sympathy for them for making this mistake and be good sports and resail the race.Ficker: Well, you see they still haven’t learned. It was very interesting but we had a wonderful series. We’ve been good friends, the Australians and our team, we’re good friends. Continue to be. I saw Jim Hardy, who was the skipper in Cowes for the 150th Jubilee, and we didn’t talk about that protest oddly enough. The America’s Cup has been a lot of fun and I think we’re going to see some good racing this next time around next year.Stephens: I’m not sure I can match a lot of these things. I’ve had a lot fun and a lot of hard work in relation to the America’s Cup. I am very emotional about it. I love to win. That’s the most important thing. I say perhaps that’s not the way to look at it, but I’d much rather win than lose. ¿been a good friend to me and helped me along with my work and had arranged for me to sail on Weetamoe during the trial races of 1934. He put a new keel on the boat, which did not seem to be very successful. Anyway, she wasn’t going as well as she should and she was taken up to Bristol for a change in keel and we were there in Bristol. That was my big chance to meet Halsey’s grandfather Nathanael Herreshoff. That was the day, as I sit right here, [that was] the very biggest day in all my experiences in the America’s Cup. It was a very, very good day. Nothing good had happened or was more exciting or pleased me more than to be able to shake hands with the man who had been so important in my life as I looked forward to a career in yacht design. I think that is really all I am going to say about it right now.Hinman: I thank you very much for inviting me here. I’m fortunate because our Commodore and Vice Commodore are winging their way right now to New Zealand or I would not be here. So I’m very happy to be here. Maybe just to take a minute and talk about how the America’s Cup affects and relates to the clubs involved. I know you people had a wonderful effort last time and probably came to [within] one windshift of going into the finals and maybe winning the Cup. Our club, if we went back to 1959, and I think my Dad was Commodore then, they had a board meeting and they said, ‘We really have to do something here to open the Cup a bit,’ and they decided they would change the elimination format as such that we would still only accept one challenge, but all the challengers could eliminate amongst themselves, which they are doing today. It is today’s format. But when they did that, it just became a matter of time before you were going to lose the Cup. I think it was really 24 years since 1959 when that decision was made that we finally did lose the Cup. We weren’t as fortunate as you to have a place like Tinsley Island. As you know we have a beautiful club house on 44th Street, but the life of the club was the America’s Cup and we had just lost it. We had no place on the water. We had a club cruise and we had an annual regatta and that was it. And we really went through a withdrawal phase. And then in 1987, we were fortunate enough to purchase a piece of property, a syndicate did because it had to be done very quickly, and then the club spent the next three years fundraising to buy it from the syndicate. And finally we were on the water. As an organization, if we hadn’t been able to get this property, the America’s Cup is great but it can’t be the be all and end all for a club because you need more than that. Since then, we’ve been able to develop a great program with multiple events similar to what you do. In effect, losing the America’s Cup was the best thing that happened to the New York Yacht Club in recent history. We’re back at it again this time and I hope we’re more successful and we’ll talk about that more tomorrow.Hinman: As far as my time in the America’s Cup, there was one highly visible incident when I was sailing on Intrepid. My position all three times when I participated was bowman. And being the bowman on these boats is the best position of all. You’re furthest away from the politics and the BS in the back and it’s just wonderful. There is only one drawback: you do have a bit of visibility up there. This was the July trials on Intrepid. Came around the windward mark and the configuration underneath was we had different bins, an upper bin and a lower bin on each side. We had chutes in those. Well, I hook up. I hook up the guy and sheet to the lower spinnaker and I hook up the head to the upper spinnaker. So here we go, we go around the mark and everybody thinks they are doing just fine. The guy’s coming back, the sheet’s getting stretched, the halyard is up. And as you can imagine it takes a while to figure out what the fronz is going on here. So it did and I think it was about 15 minutes [when] we finally got it down and I didn’t have the heart to look back at Bus at that point because I know he was just shaking his head. We go around the leeward mark. We start back up wind again and a fellow named Bizzy Monte-Sano was the crew boss. He turns to Bus and says, ‘Bus what spinnaker do you want for the next downwind leg?’ Bus says, ‘I can’t tell you. You’re going to set them all anyway.’Hinman: Olin, I have a question for you. In my mind, sailing on Intrepid with your wonderful design and with Bus Mosbacher as the skipper, to me that was your finest design. Do you have any feelings about that?Stephens: I think that Intrepid was the finest in the sense that she was most ahead of her time. She was a good boat other than it took a little longer than usual to set her spinnaker. That was very, very unfortunate. Many of the boats may have been a little bit better. In fact, I’m quite sure they were. With Intrepid, I was happy with the model tests. If I might just say one thing about that because I remember going over to Hoboken when we were testing the model with Bus Mosbacher who was going to sail the boat. I had tried to make a powerful boat that would go in a breeze with less rudder area in the hope that that would make her fast. I then said to Bus, ‘I hope you are going to have an amazing summer and I think you will if you have enough wind but you may have to work for it if the weather is a bit light.’ I think that is about the way it turned out. It was fun anyway.Enersen: Olin, just on the same line in one of the films that I was lucky enough to make about the Cup, we did a piece on-camera with you in which you said something, which I think I quote accurately, saying that you thought that the bow of the 12-Meters came out just about the same time each time, but that the sterns had a way of changing and developing over the years. Talk a little bit about that evolution?Stephens: There are some things that I think I know about but feel I hardly have the academic background to analyze it closely. The small model testing was really the basis for the success I had in the early days. By the time it got to 1970 there were two new boats built and one that had been sailed, Intrepid, which had been modified. And in that year, the two new boats were certainly failures. And Intrepid, I think it is fair to say, she had not been improved and may have had a step backwards as a result of model tests. And I think many people feel that Bill was able to bring her to win against a faster boat. I thank Bill for that very much. But the model test had been very useful until that time. Why did it suddenly change? It is my opinion that Halsey and maybe others know better, some of the technical details of proportions and so forth. With the small model the actual surface has a much smaller radius. And I have a feeling that with most of the smaller models the after body was separating. And from the design point of view, you could improve the shape of the bow by putting more displacement in the stern. And until that got too extreme, the common sense of the Naval architects and myself included, was to make a decent fair shaped after body anyway and so it wasn’t too bad. But by the time it got to be 1970, we were more impressed by the importance of putting more displacement right aft. The boats had so-called kickers, which were said to improve them. I think that may have improved them if they had allowed the bow to be better shaped. But they just did not hurt the stern because the water was separating there and it just did not make a difference. So that is my explanation. And today the very small models have been given up completely although models, when I’m talking small, these models were between 3 to 4 feet long and weighed about 30 pounds as opposed to the large models that are 18 to 20 feet long and weighed about a ton. Today, I think models are about a third the size. A 45 foot waterline 12-Meter would be 15 feet long. The America’s Cup boat is a little longer than that. I think those are pretty safely tested with various precautions people have taken. But in 1970 that was not appreciated. Maybe that is too technical, maybe it’s not technically correct, but that is my explanation.Enersen: Gary, you had an experience back in 1977 with a very unique figure in American yachting. I think it is widely believed that maybe Robert Edward Turner III was just sort of a rich guy who decided to get into the game and throw a bunch of money at it and somehow managed to win. You, probably better than anybody, have a real inside into the man and his abilities and shortcomings. Can you also talk about that a little bit? Jobson: Sure. And I should mention that Conn Findlay, who is here, was a member of the Courageous crew. We actually had our 25th anniversary of the Courageous crew last month in Newport, R.I. and it spoke a lot about Turner that not only did all the crew show up, but between the 11 of us, we’ve spawned 28 children which weren’t around in 1977. And all 28 of our kids showed up. I think they were pretty intrigued. Someone came up with a T-shirt that said “The older they get, the better they were.(continued)