America’s Cup Past & Future, part 2

The St. Francis YC panel discussion with Olin Stephens, Halsey Herreshoff, Bill Ficker, Gary Jobson and Jory Hinman continues.

Enersen: In the 15 minutes or so that we have left I’d like to open the panel to questions from the audience, again in keeping with the theme of the day, the history of the Cup. Please raise your hand and address a question to any of the group.Enersen: In the early days of 12-Meters, how important was the boat per se, and the skipper in terms of the relative success? I know what Bill would say and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what Olin thinks.Stephens: I think it is pretty well divided. (inaudible)Enersen: Halsey, what do you think?Herreshoff: Well, I’d just like to say that question is always posed in gatherings like this. I liken it to the links of a chain. You’ve got a piece of chain and there is one weak link. I think that is true in the America’s Cup or any yacht race. You’ve got to have a good boat and a good skipper and good sails and good crew. I think it is fair to say that the best skipper won’t win with a poor boat and vice-versa.Enersen: Talking about sportsmanship and the America’s Cup, particularly around the turn of the century involving challenges from the British. Gary?Jobson : There are three instances I can think of quickly. [In] 1885, . . . Genesta won a race when the American boat broke down and they weren’t going to accept the victory that way and they decided to allow for resail and that was the end of that kind of thing. Then in 1893, you had the great Dunraven incident where there was a foul on the starting line and he accused the Americans of cheating. J. Pierpont Morgan was asked to do an inquiry, it was actually 1895, an inquiry into that and I have a copy of that book, there were only 100 copies printed and I was able to acquire one of those. It is a fascinating read. Anyway, great job. The Americans were absolved of all wrong doing and Dunraven, I think, was a little bit of a loony tune. But there is one incident that is kind of fun. Can I tell this story? [In] 1920 Sir Thomas Lipton, 72-years-old now, is challenging for his fourth time. His first three campaigns his boats weren’t that quick. But this time, he actually had the boat arrive in the United States in 1914, but when the scrimmage broke out in Europe and World War I came along, the boat was moth-balled for six years. By 1920, now the Cup races got underway and the American boat, Resolute, with an amateur skipper by the way, Charles Francis Adams at the helm, went out and it was the best three out of five series. And here is what happened. As it turned out, Resolute, the American boat, was great in light air. Shamrock IV was great in heavy air. Race 1: 25 knots, Shamrock IV wins by six minutes. Race 2: 30 knots, the American boat actually broke down and didn’t get to the finish line. 2 - 0. One more race and Lipton finally gets his Cup. Race 3 comes along and it’s blowing about 6 - 8 knots and Resolute goes over the horizon and wins by about 10 minutes. 2 - 1. Race 4: the wind is light again and the score is now 2 - 2. It comes down to the fifth and final race and it is blowing 25 knots on this day, and old Sir Thomas Lipton is licking his chops. He is going to lift the Cup from the dreaded New York Yacht Club. But the Race Committee decides that it is a little too windy for a race on this day. True story. They postponed the race. They come out another day. Lipton was very upset. He didn’t challenge for 10 years. But anyway, it came that the fifth and deciding race after the postponed race and the wind was blowing 8 knots and [Resolute] went on to win, 3 - 2. So things like that do happen.Enersen: The question is in the development of Intrepid for ’67: did Constellation, which I’m rather fond of, play any important role in that?Stephens: I think the answer is yes. There was a clear tendency that the yacht designers could recognize in that period of getting shorter keels and emphasis on less wetted area, which generally helped you in a breeze if we didn’t cut down the lateral plane too far. And in boats of other people’s design, especially the 5.5 Meter class they were winning the races with very short keels. In the case of Constellation, her keel was considerably short, and not by separating the rudder, but by putting the rudder further under the boat. But it could jeopardize the steering. But she steered exceptionally well and she worked well, but she was at her best in light weather. After a series of very close races with American Eagle, there was a final race in which Constellation was ahead. Reports came in from the marks to the Race Committee, which we could pick up on the radio, and the report from the wayward mark as the boats approached it was it was blowing 16 knots. Well, if it was blowing 16 knots, I don’t know what [it was], but it was closer to 10 I’m sure, and this favored the Constellation very nicely as she rode downwind. That was good. But when I heard 16 knots I said, “Well, we don’t have to worry anymore.Enersen: One of the big changes that year was the helmsman. Toward the very end of the July trials, Eric Ridder, who was captain of the boat, who had been steering the boat to windward all along, announced at breakfast to the crew that he thought he would just let Bob Bavier, who had been the tactician, start the boat that day. The whole breakfast table went about 8 feet in the air. We just got such a shot out of it; it was wonderful and, of course, went on to be successful.Enersen: Again, the balance of importance between the skipper and the crew, sails and the hull and the specific case, and that would be the little white pointer, Australia II, in 1983. Halsey, you had something to do with that.Herreshoff: I had the pleasure of being the navigator of Liberty and so I did see a lot of that boat. Of course, the design was controversial. I think there is still an argument as to whether, under the provision of the 12-Meter rule, that particular configuration with a wing was legal. But she certainly was an extraordinarily good boat. We had heard for years, every spring, you would always hear, well, the English or the Australians have got a break through. They’ve got some new trick that’s going to be something we’ve never heard of and they’re going to come and it’s going to blow us away from just having a good boat. And then they’d come and they wouldn’t have a fast boat. So, I think we got a little shell shocked where these rumors were discarded too much. We did hear rumors that spring in 1983. And what we should have done in retrospect was we should have sent somebody down to Australia to spy on them. So when the boat did arrive and there was speculation on the winged keel, we didn’t know quite what it was like. I remember one early morning about 5 a.m. driving D.C. up to Cove Haven . . . We had an idea of sneaking into the shed. We thought we’d have a look. But it was pretty well-guarded. We drove around the barge and we didn’t have the [chance to see] see the boat. But we did have somewhat of an idea of what it was . . . One thing she was a small, with a big rig. Secondly, she was a pretty elegant design and the winged keel . . . her very satisfactory extension of the trend Olin spoke about in getting the keel shorter and shorter. I think they found in 1970 that overly-short keels, given the draft limitations under the 12-Meter rule, the overly-short keels didn’t work because there wasn’t enough lateral [surface]. . . So by putting the keel plate on, what we now see on most 747s, the lift elements were enhanced at such a point that the keel would be shorter and the overall package on less wetted surface. So that made for a boat that went very satisfactory windward. And one clue to that, we learned during the season she had very elegant flat sails . . . But what was the most telling feature [was her] low wetted surface, but to get the low wetted surface there had to be a trick. The trick worked. Olin, maybe you want to correct me on . . . Stephens: I wouldn’t correct Halsey exactly, but I was one of those who believed the Australian boat was perfectly right. I said so to Alan Bond and he asked me whether I would write a letter to effect. I’m afraid I was a little too concerned about my standing with some of the New York Yacht Club people and I still kick myself for being a little too careful to not write a letter. I think they should have known about it if they didn’t because it reminded me of people of who knew about the fact that actually I had tested the flat plate on the bottom of Intrepid’s keel. It was a back-up step and we gave it up. Didn’t go further. If I’d just been a little more knowledgeable and a little more sophisticated at the way that plate was shaped, I think we’d have had the same thing earlier but we tried it and gave it up. I think the New York Yacht Club people did know about that and in the light of that, I never thought they were quite justified in worrying about the legality of it. And that’s a personal opinion.Day 2Enersen: Welcome to the second part of our America’s Cup forum. I’m going to assume that you were all here paying attention yesterday and remember all these distinguished gentlemen from yesterday. But just as a refresher course--from my far left Jorie Hinman from the NYYC and the current Stars & Stripes campaign, Bill Ficker, 1970 helmsman of Intrepid, Gary Jobson from ESPN and Sailing World, I’m Dick Enersen for those of you who might have forgotten. We have Olin J. Stephen II, the dean of American yacht designers, a totally wonderful person, and Halsey Herreshoff, who has sailed in more 12-Meter America’s Cup events than almost anybody and is the grandson of the Wizard of Bristol, Nathanael G. Herreshoff. Yesterday we talked about the history of the America’s Cup in some detail as it pertained to these gentlemen. Today we are going to talk about the condition and state of the America’s Cup event as it now is and wind up with some prognostications about the future. We’ll make some remarks from up here and then throw it out to you for questions. As you know the America’s Cup is now sailed in a class called ACC, America’s Cup Class, which came into being after the 1988 debacle with the catamaran and the big, big boat from down under in New Zealand. The chairman of the committee that created the class is Bill Ficker. I’d like to ask Bill to talk a little bit about what generated that process and what the ambitions of the committee were in creating the ACC boat.Ficker: Thank you, Dick. I’m not a naval architect so getting into details of the new boats, I’ll defer to Olin Stephens. I did have the privilege of chairing that committee in 1989 after the debacle of the large boat challenge. There was a great feeling that something more modern than the 12-Meter should be used in future America’s Cups. The 12-Meters were pretty good boats to use in Newport, R.I., and we usually had good breeze. And as Gary told you yesterday, in Australia they were excellent boats because they were very tough, they had a lot of width. But it was obvious that in San Diego, an area of mostly very light winds, the 12-Meter would really be the classic “watching grass grow” to see them race. So the trustees of the challengers and defenders decided they would have a meeting in San Diego to discuss all elements of the challenge and how challenges could be handled in the future. And one element of that three or four day meeting was to have a meeting of yacht designers from around the world, most all of those that had participated in design of 12-Meters and a lot of other new, high performance boats. We had a group of about 35 people there, not all yacht designers, but probably half of them. You didn’t have to go wanting for ideas. Everybody came there with some idea and interestingly the ideas covered a very, very broad spectrum all the way from having very high performance, smaller 45 foot boats, even catamarans, and some even proposed boats up to 110 or 120 feet. To go back to the J-class type of racing because it would be so dramatic. There were a lot of things talked about other than just the design of the boats. But what the boats should represent because of the stature of the America’s Cup. And that, of course, partially drove the size of the boat and it also drove what we all thought would be good for people to watch race. Because the America’s Cup, there’s such consideration given, especially today, of what is interesting not only for yachting people to watch but for the general public that this became a very strong part of the discussion. And also we felt that certainly the boat should be much more modern with full batten sails and, of course, built of high tech materials and so forth. It was also suggested that it probably should be more of a measurement rule where you were boxed into certain dimensions rather than a development rule or a formula like the 12-Meters. What happened was, after about two days, rather than overseeing a fist fight, why oddly enough, all of the designers were very, very professional and all worked together late into the night to come up with what they thought was a pretty good boat. I presented that to a meeting with the trustees after two days. They had put this on the computer and did perspectives of the hull shape and everything and presented interestingly a boat that is very close to the boats that you see here today. They all anticipated how they would stretch the boat. Whether they would make it narrow and long. It was very interesting to me that, really, after a very short period of time they all concluded pretty much what that boat would look like and be if put into that formula. At that time we had anticipated a boat of about 85 feet. Back then, in a subsequent meeting that the designers had to detail the rule, it turned out that the boat would be about 75 feet. And I believe the new boats, and some of the other people on the panel here probably know closer than I do, but I think the new boats are all up close to 80 feet. They’ve kind of gone for maximum length and minimum beam; they are very, very narrow boats. But that is where the new rule came from. It seems to have worked pretty well. The boats are high performance boats and they seem to handle very well. One thing probably if we had anticipated a little more and thought about the racing, we might have somehow put into the rule, at least I would have, a boat with a little more lateral plane. It just seems to me from watching the races that the boats don’t like to tack and don’t like to make low speed tacks, and I suspect it is because of the very, long narrow fin that supports the very, very heavy weight. I think in anticipating any new boat or improvement in the boats, it might go in a direction that would encourage more close match racing than drag racing or boat speed.Enersen: Thank you, Bill. Olin, I know you were not actually on that committee, but did some consulting with them. Can you give us your view from your perspective of the class as it now is and how its developed?Stephens: I really have a question for Bill because I frankly haven’t been able to understand the distinction between the measurement rule and [box] rule. It seems to be that . . . trying to predict the speed of the boat by measuring the . . . that tend to make it go faster against those that make it go slower . . . sail area, length and the . . . displacement and the stability is very important in between, particularly for . . . Whatever the rule says, I don’t think the rule is going to control the lateral plane; I think the yacht designer can use any lateral plane that he wants. I feel inclined to take a chance on a prediction and I’ve got a strong feeling that the before this all ends up, we are going to see the boats all have two rudders, one forward and one aft. I know there is a steering problem there, but . . . trying to analyze the effect. If you can cut down that leeway, which you can do with two rudders at certain angles if they’re the right size, then you can run the boat without leeway and that would help tremendously as you get out on the course as you get out of the sails. So I think it is only time before one of the boats . . . I’ll think that’ll be done probably soon. I pretty much like the boats strictly for racing purposes. They are not the kind I was lucky with designing. I seem to have some kind of knack of making heavy boats go fast and light boats not so much. I never had very good success with the lightest kind of boats. These light boats are certainly appropriate for racing and my only take on it is they tend to break. They are very fragile and personally, I think the . . . are controlled. They are exceptionally lightweight. It would look a lot better. It’s kind of sad to see so much failure getting into the problem. For those who want to disagree with me, you have a good case to say that the . . . are a part of the competition and that is certainly so. But I think you still would have competition on other elements of design even if you had to put a certain amount of weight into the hull. It would be better for everybody if more of the boats were not so fragile. That’s about all I can say right now.Enersen: Halsey, you’re a naval architect. What do you feel about this particular vessel?Herreshoff: Well, I’ve had the opportunity to sail these boats some and I think they are very nice boats to sail and I think what Olin says is quite satisfactory for this kind of racing. In regard to the failures of them, one day I was an observer of the 2000 Louis Vuitton trials, kept track of all the races and concluded that 25 percent of the races in the Louis Vuitton were decided by breakdowns, either sails ripping out, masts coming down, boats sinking or all kinds of other things happening. I think that is an intolerable ratio. It’s probably not very good gamesmanship. One chance in four when you go out of breaking down is not a good way to win a race. So I think that by some means, the competitors ought to improve that situation. Perhaps it is a matter of some rules as Olin suggests. But maybe it is a matter of, with all the resources that go into these boats, shifting some of them to add more engineering. I think that while there is a lot of finger pointing in the dramatic accidents between designers and those who help them engineer the boats and the builders, the truth is, probably the blame should be mostly on the designers and whoever does the engineering. I think that situation can be improved. I think the competitiveness of the boat is terrific, just great to sail to windward. We did find after the first races in these boats that the reaching leg seemed pretty useless and I believe that nobody ever passed on the reaching legs, so they took that out. I think that in regard to the races there is a feeling on the part of some that the races would be more interesting if there were many more legs and shorter legs. I would . . . on that because I think if the legs get too short it gets very hard to pass. I think you want to have legs long enough that there is a chance for some sailing within the cone shaped dimensions of the layline as you go upwind. I think that in spite of all the criticism today about the America’s Cup--criticism that it is too expensive, criticism that it’s too commercial, criticism that it lacks some of the good feeling, which may have been around--nevertheless, I think when the crews are on the water in these fine boats, that the racing is terrific. I think you are going to see some very outstanding races in this 2002-2003 Louis Vuitton and Cup races.Enersen: Jory, you are a big part of the syndicate for NYYC, which is mounting a challenge again this year. The biggest change I’ve observed over the years is the cost of these things has grown astronomically. We’re hearing budgets of $80 and $90 million. Where does all that money go?Hinman: I hope you are not talking about me specifically. Actually, the budget that we had for 2000 and the budget that we have for this campaign were quite similar. They were somewhere between $30 and $40 million. So we are not, as Dennis would say, in the league of the bees, but $30 to $40 million is still a substantial amount. Over a three year period there is only so much money you can probably spend constructively. You can certainly spend a lot. You can build three or four masts, but trying to determine what is the right course to go with, multiple choices aren’t always easy. We started our conversations with Dennis in 2000 on whether he might want to represent us. It was a fascinating conversation. He came into the office and said, “I will raise all the money for the campaign. You will have no financial responsibility at all and I just want one thing,” he said, “and that’s the rights to the venue.” That tells you how much money is driven by the site. We obviously didn’t do anything with Dennis that year, but it was an eye-opener on what that means as far as the dollars and cents go. In our 2000 campaign, we thought that we would raise 50 percent from individuals and 50 percent from corporate. As it turned out, it was an 80 - 20 equation--80 percent individual and 20 percent corporate. We were disappointed in the corporate end and it was some reflection on the strength of the stock market in the end of the ’90s that were able to raise that much from our membership. It was a difficult decision when we started the conversation with Dennis after the 2000 campaign, which obviously for us, was a disappointment. We thought we had a great designer in Bruce Farr and we had the money and we thought we were going to go all the way. It obviously didn’t turn out that way. So you go back to the membership then and you have to ask yourself, do you have the resources to go and get it again? And you have to be pretty honest in that assessment because it isn’t a very long period of time and, as I say, we had to go back to the membership. There is a group that would say that it is good if we’re just in the America’s Cup to be there. Well, I think that is absolutely incorrect. There is only one reason to do the America’s Cup and that’s to win it. So we had to be pretty honest on whether we thought if we combine with Dennis we could have the resources to get it done. We did go ahead, obviously, and are very hopeful that we can do it this time. Our financing this time is probably going to be one third individuals and two thirds corporate. Dennis has done a very good job of getting corporations to become involved in the campaign ,and I can honestly say that the amount of effort that he has put into fundraising is just incredible. I take my hat off to him because he will leave no stone unturned in trying to get the monies that are necessary to give the boys a chance on the water to do whatever they can do. The first boat was 66 and the second boat was 77. As everybody knows, 77 had a little problem and had a short term sinking about a month ago. When the boat did sink, the bow section landed first in the sediment and caused some structural damage. We were very fortunate that with only paying the deductible, which was $50,000, we were basically able to get one third of the boat brand new. 77 was not quite as fast as 66, so what you are probably looking at is a little different boat when it hits the water next week than before it sunk. So, we are hopeful that this is going to be an improvement. As far as the boats themselves, this design, and I’m not an expert on this, but it’s far different than the Farr design. It is narrow. It’s got a stiff mast. I think a Farr 40 has more beam than these two boats. So it is going to be interesting to see how she does but they are pretty excited at this point. Ten days from now we’ll find out.(continued)