Of all the yachts in Annapolis, none is sweeter to the eye than American Eagle. That judgment is proved each time she sets sail, gleaming red and handsomely restored, and yachtsmen train their cameras on her wherever she goes.
If every good yacht has a story, American Eagle has a biography. She's one of the last great wooden 12-meters and perhaps the first ever to call the Chesapeake home. She sought but failed to win the 1964 America's Cup, but her competitive life only began there. She went on to become one of the most successful ocean-racers ever.
Last fall a consortium of six Annapolis boating enthusiasts bought her and brought her back from disuse.
She lay in a Connecticut yard -- all but forgotten after her owner jilted her for aluminum, the yacht-racing material of modern times -- when "we saw the ad in Yachting," says Pokey Frazer, Annapolis regional representative for that magazine and one of the boat's new owners. The asking price was $160,000, but that was whittled down considerably.
American Eagle wasn't pretty. Her paint was flaking, her decks and cabin were strewn with 18 years' accumulation of gear, much of it gritty. The electric systems were gone. But the Annapolitans made three trips north to poke and prod her, and found that everything structural was sound.
What a lot to prod. She's 68 feet of double-planked, edge-glued Honduras mahogany laid over laminated mahogany and steam-bent oak frames. Each frame is tied into the keel with individually patterned, cast-bronze fittings. She's strong, 12 meters tall and racing sharp.
She's established that. "Eagle" is the yacht upon which Ted Turner fashioned his yachting name.
She fared well in the '64 Cup races at Newport under helmsman William Cox but was edged out in the final trials by Constellation. Three years later a Canadian bought her and refitted her for ocean racing, but had only modest success on the Great Lakes.
Turner bought her, and under his hand from 1969 to 1973 she campaigned in every major ocean race in the world. She won the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit, the Sydney- Hobart race in Australia, the Annapolis- Newport race, and set a record in the British Fastnet race that stood for eight years. Piloting Eagle, Turner was named sailor of the year twice.
American Eagle was the racing yacht of her time, but, as with all racing yachts, time passed her by. Changes in offshore racing rules worked in favor of the wide-body metal designs, and her sleek, classic shape became a beautiful anachronism.
When Turner built the aluminum racer Tenacious to stay competitive, he sold Eagle to Warren Brown, a Bermudian, who campaigned her as War Baby. Then Turner quit racing two years ago and also sold Tenacious to Brown, and Baby/Eagle lay ignominiously forgotten at the docks for 18 months.
The Annapolis crew intends to charter Eagle, including summer charters in Newport during the 1983 America's Cup. But co- owner Bob Lipe says, correctly, "No charter operation ever pays its way."
What the Annapolis group really wants to do is sail Eagle but keep the costs in hand. They spent the winter fixing her up and last month gathered with sandpaper and rollers in hand to restore the fire-engine-red hull finish that identified her when Turner raced her. She's right again.
Says Frazer, "How many people can own one of the most famous 12-meters and ocean racers ever built?"
Says Lipe, who does yacht woodworking for a living, "The hull of Eagle is the epitome of good wood construction. It's some of the finest wooden boatbuilding technique I've ever seen. She's superbly strong. She's sailed all over the world in some of the worst conditions ever.
"It's a tremendous thrill to sail her," he adds. "All of us (in the owners group) have sailed a lot of boats, but this is like getting out of a VW and into a Ferrari."
Eagle will sit at the Eastport end of the Compromise Street Bridge in Annapolis until the end of May, when she'll be sailed to Newport for the summer. She's available for charter, but it's a memorable kick just to admire her at the dock.
After the summer she'll be back home in the Bay, where her owners can drop down and visit her every day.
"Let's go down now," says Frazer, leaping up from his desk and heading for the door. "I haven't seen her all day.""