Americans of all political persuasions should lay aside their bickering over less consequential matters and come to agreement on one point--it is time for a foreign boat to win the America's Cup.
How can a normal, patriotic American (in which category the writer places himself) say such a thing? Yachting's top event is now in the same condition that baseball would be if the New York Yankees had won the World Series for 20 years running. No one would be having a good time, except maybe George Steinbrenner.
It has been 132 years since Commodore Stevens' schooner America left a British fleet far behind and brought home the silver cup "worth 100 guineas." Since then there have been 24 challenges, all of them won by the Americans. Everybody likes a winning streak, but this has clearly gone too far. It would do us all good to see the cup taken away to foreign shores and to spend the next four years plotting to get it back.
Of course, it is asking a lot to be wholeheartedly in favor of Australia II. The boat comes equipped with a secret weapon--a "winged" keel--about which the Australians have been inordinately secretive. Even if the device is not outright illegal, one must question whether it is sporting. The issue we all face is: are we prepared to be understanding about such underwater underhandedness from down under?
But we Americans are hardly in a position to be fastidious. For years the New York Yacht Club ran the races under rules that were the sailing equivalent of putting John McEnroe in charge of his own line calls. The challengers--almost all British in those days--were required to arrive at the scene from their home ports on their own bottoms, meaning they had to be designed and built to withstand an Atlantic crossing. Then the race committee would schedule the races for early September, when prevailing conditions off Newport, R.I., feature winds that barely move cigarette smoke from the vertical. To no one's surprise, the lightly constructed and over-rigged American vessels always won.
It is too bad the British cannot be the contender that first removes the cup from its pedestal on West 44th Street. For more than a century they have put up many gallant challenges, including the great series with Sir Thomas Lipton's five Shamrocks, and more recently Tommy Sopwith's Endeavors. But the British seem chronically unable to design fast sailboats. Even in the 18th century, when Britannia ruled the waves, it was British gunnery and tactics that accomplished the feat, not the design of their ships. The French ships they fought were consistenly better built and faster sailers.
The Australians, in any event, have proven to be worthy contenders. They have only been in 12-meter competition for some 20 years, but in that time they have built some fast boats, particularly the two Gretels. Australian skippers and crews have become increasingly expert over the years.
Also, the competition could clearly use a change of venue from Newport. We need to get away from those light, fickle breezes, those effete cocktail parties. One likes to think that in the Tasmanian Bight, or wherever the Australians choose to hold their defense, both the weather and the entertainment would be of a more red-blooded variety.
It is painful to have to have to take this position. Liberty is a fine boat, and Dennis Connor and his crew splendid sailors. But one cannot help feeling that 1983 should be Australia's year. If they win, it will be for the good of the sport. We are even prepared to overlook that winged keel.