The New York Times SPORTS, Monday, August 20, 2001
By Herb McCormick
COWES, England, Aug. 19 — Shortly before setting out today in its capacity as the official flagship for the America’s Cup Jubilee, America, the 130-foot replica of the schooner that won the first Cup race in 1851— was hailed by a local sailor passing by on a small sloop.
“Look at all the trouble you’ve caused us,” he yelled at the crew.
For British sailors, the main trouble with the America’s Cup is that, despite countless challenges in the intervening 150 years, they have failed to win it back.
But that did not stop the Royal Yacht Squadron, in conjunction with the New York Yacht Club, from organizing an ambitious Jubilee regatta to commemorate that first race in the same waters in which it was sailed.
And in cool, blustery conditions this morning on the Solent, the current-swept waterway that separates mainland England from the Isle of Wight, the racing started for more than 160 boats in 15 divisions.
Conspicuous by their absence, however, were the 36 yachts entered in the three marquee 12-Metre classes, and the nine boats scheduled to race in the International America’s Cup Class fleet. With a building breeze that leveled off at a fresh 25 knots with gusts over 30, the conditions were deemed too boisterous for the relatively delicate twelves.
As the day unfolded, it appeared that in the case of the 12-Metres, discretion may well have triumphed over valor. Some 22 yachts retired from the racing, many with blown-out spinnakers or damaged mainsails or jibs. In that respect, it was a good day to be a sailmaker.
But it was a trying day for crews of the 1937 Vintage Class entrant Havsoerven and the Classic division yachts Blue Leopard, from England and the recently restored New York 50, Marilee, sailed by the New York Yacht Club skipper Larry Snoden. Both Classic yachts sustained dismasting, and the latter will be sidelined for at least a day with a broken boom.
The 12-Metres wisely remain in port.
Clearly, many sailors found the white-capped, blue-green waters of the Solent to be testing. However, the crews of the J boats Endeavour and Shamrock V, and the all-out racing machines Stealth, Extra Beat and Mari Cha III relished the stiff southwesterly and roiled seas— at least for portions of the day— and put on a sensational show for the hundreds of spectator boats in attendance.
At the blast of the starting cannon positioned along the seawall fronting the Royal Yacht Squadron, the four-boat J Class was the first division to get under way. Setting up to windward of its competition, the green-hulled Shamrock muscled upwind to an early lead while Endeavour languished in fourth place.
When the yachts reappeared after rounding their weather mark, however, it was Endeavour— flying its big blue spinnaker emblazoned with white stars and pushing a mighty bow wave— that had taken the lead.
And that lead was sealed when, halfway down the run, Shamrock’s spinnaker exploded in spectacular fashion. Still, Shamrock held on for a second-place finish. Endeavour later blew out its chute, but not before opening a comfortable gap.
With its solid black hull and matching carbon-fiber sails, the aptly named Stealth flew up and down the race course, at times making speeds of 25 knots downwind. Though Stealth was the first around the track in its IRC Modern Division 2, on corrected time it fell to 11th place.
In the IRC Modern Division 1, the battle was between the six-spreader sloop Extra Beat, skippered by the America’s Cup veteran Dennis Conner, and the powerful ketch-rigged Mari Cha III, sailed by Robert Miller.
Conner had Extra Beat well positioned off the starting line and his cause was furthered when Mari Cha III was forced to change jibs midway up the beat, temporarily sailing without a headsail. At times exhibiting blistering speed, Mari Cha III still managed to overtake Extra Beat and record a first-to-finish in its class. But on corrected time, Extra Beat moved to the top of the division standing.
When, in the early afternoon, the tide turned and began to ebb out in the Solent, the wind-against-tide conditions turned the seaway into a minefield of standing waves. Not coincidentally, it was at this juncture that the worst of the sail and rig damage occurred.
Race officials are hoping for more benign weather on Tuesday, the 150th anniversary of the schooner America’s historical victory, when the fleet is scheduled to race around the Isle of Wight in a restaging of the contest that began the legacy of sailing’s oldest prize.