he very proper gentlemen of the very proper New York Yacht Club have demostrated their propriety beyond doubt. They did not drill little holes in the bottom of Ted Turner's boat. And even when Turner was beating the bernacles off everybody, they refused the temptation to send torpedoes against him. Their best hope was Jaws, but the big guy is busy on location, chewing up more tourists.
Instead, the New York Yacht Club has chosen Turner to represent the United States in the America-s Cup races against Australia beginning Sept.13. This is a big deal, the World Series of boatdom. America has never lost in 123 years, and the appointment of Turner to defend our honor must have seemed to the very proper clubbies the equivalent of asking Willie Sutton to hold the keys to one's safe-deposit box, for one never knmows what this Turner fellow will do or say next.
Turner is 33, tall amd so devilishly handsome with fine features and athin mustache that he could pass for a young Errol Flynn. He wons the Atlanta Braves baseball team, the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, an advertising company and some television stations. Because he often says and does things that are not - how should one say it? - very proper. Turner has been called (a) Captain Outrageous, (b) the Mouth of the South, and (c) worse.
The son of a World War II naval officer, Turner took up sailing when, as a youngster, he learned he was not good at the traditional games. He is now an internationally known yachtsman who has won dozens of the most important competitions. This will be his first appearance as the skipper of an America's Cup boat, but he might have been here in 1974 had he not fallen to fisticuffs with his boat's designer - a fall that led to his replacement at the helm.
By winning 26 of 35 races against two other 12-meter boats this summer, Turner and his boat, Courageous, made it practically impossible for the New York Yacht Club to choose anyone else. While it is true that Turner called one of this summer's opponents a liar and caused another to say that Turner's race tactics include smashing broadside any boat ahead of him, he has been, for him, very proper. Even diplomatic.
To the suggestion that he and his 10-man crew saw a need to overwhelm the opposition in order to avoid a selection based more on good manners than on how well they moved a 66-foot racer across the ocean, Turner said, "No, sir, we just came up here to go sailing."
But he did dominate the racing.
"It wasn't much," he said. "The average margin was one-third of one minute. In a threehours boat race over 24 miles, that's like one-third of a point in a 100-point basketball game. That's all. There was no room for error."
Witnesses say Turner and his crew made few errors in dispatching the American challengers, first Independence and then Enterprise. Turner calls his crew "the best ever on a 12-meter boat," and, to keep them inspired, plays onboard the theme music from the movie "Rocky." No one expects Australia to be the equal of Courageous, which means that soon we will enjoy the delicious sight of the New York Yacht Clubbers saying very proper things to a skipper who wears a railroad engineer's cap, chews tobacco and says he might once have been Christopher Columbus.
Turner walked down Thames Street wearing his cap toady and everyone recognized him a shouted hello. The sun was warm and bright, and Captain Outrageous was positively feeling good. "A little hangover, the celebration and all," he daid.
"Other than that, super."
The image thing, Turner said, is silly.
"The most serious thing that's ever happened to me was a parking ticket," said the man suspended from baseball for this season because the commissioner said he tampered with another owner's player.
Turner is a showman. Here on Thames Street, walking, he recognized a melodrama in the making. He chin held high, Turner said, "If being against stuffiness and pompousness and bigotry is bad behavior, then I plead guilty."
"If being friendly and not thinking youre better than anyone else just because you've got more money then them, because God gave you more talent than he gave other people - if that is a crime, I plead guilty as charged."
"Oh, every now and then, I open my mouth when it should be shut. But, hey, if not being perfect is a crime, I plead guilty as charged."
He stopped walking.
"You know what it says in the Bible, don't you? About the prostitute who was stoned? 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.'"
The Mouth of the South smiled.
"Pretty strong stuff in that Bible."
"I try to bear the blows and keep on smiling. But the more you get beat on, the more sober you get. Not sober like you've been drunk. Sober like it's not fun. I'm fighting that. I have fun going to base ball games. If going to baseball and basketball games and cheering is a crime, then I plead guilty."
The America's Cup series is work, however, he said, work like climbing Everest, work in which it is more satisfaction than fun, and when someone asked Turner when he began working toward the Cup, the skipper said, "Twenty-nine years ago."
When hefirst sailed, right?
"Or it might have been a thousand years ago."
In another life, right?
"I might have been Sir Francis Drake, Capt. William Cook, Horatio Nelson, Vasco da Gama."
Voice rising now.
"Or Christopher Columbus."