The tiny coffee shop of the Sea View Motel was nearly deserted, and the waitress was serving the morning's last order of Rhode Island Johnnycakes - gritty pancakes made with coarse corn meal instead of flour, a favorite of local palates.
"It sure is different today than yesterday," she said wistfuly. "It all builds up for three months and then it's over so quickly."
That is the mood of Newport at the end of an America's Cup summer . The coffee shop will close in a couple of weeks, but the season is already over. It ended Sunday with the uncharacteristically raucus celebration that followed Courageous' [WORD ILLEGIBLE] sweep of Australia in the 23d challenge for yachting's Holy Grail.
Dowtown it was the same, Along Thames Street and America's Cup Avenue the street merchants were packing up their "Ted Turner - Captain Courageous" T-shirt. At the Black Pearl and the Candy Store, the favored pubs of the sailing in crowd the sense of letdown was immense.
"It's amazing how this place empties out," said John Ahern, gesturing toward the harbor that is usually sparsely populated after Labor Day, but remained jam packed with pleasure craft until the completion of the cup races. This morning there was a mass exodus towards the ports of call lettered on all the handsome transoms.
Ahern is the acknowledgable, convivial, yachting expert of the Boston Globe, as much as a Newport institution during cup summers as the Gatsbyesque mastos along Bellevue Avenue. He is the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] bewildered landlubbers seek at with nautical riddles that he solve willingly, with unfailing panache and good humor.
Last week, for example, a woman who wouldn't know a jib if it came up and jabbed her in the stern introduced herself timidly and asked for help, saying, "I understand you know a lot about all this."
"Madam" Ahern said, kissing her hand with a flourish and arching his formidale bushy eyebrows, "I invented yachting. Delighted to be of service."
It is easy to mock the America's Cup, its pretentions, the starchiness of the men who run it as they would run the world - starboard out, starboard home.
For drama, it falls somewhere between bad polo and a baseball game rained out after six innings with the home team down a dozen runs. Since the competition started in 1851, the score is: United States 24, foreign challengers 0.
Representatives of the New York Yacht Club, the defenders, have won 74 of 81 races. In seven of the last 10 challenges, the challengers have not won a race, and there have been no photo finishes.
The mystique of the longest winning streak in sports is dimished by the lack of competition. The rules, which require, with few exceptions, that the challenging yacht be designed, built and outfitted in the country of origin, gives the defender a virtual monopoly on the most advanced sails, equipment, technology, and competition. Critics liken this to holding a jumping frog contest in which in all but the home frog have their back legs tied.
It would be more interesting if the challengers who spend millions did something boldly innovative, like hire Howard Cosell to talk into their sails.
But despite the notion that the result is inevitable, America's Cup may be the most majestic spectacle in all of sport. The area is the open sea, contestants sleek and expertly handled yachts, the spectators a breathtaking flotilla, all varnished wood, proudly flapping sails and flags and binoculars on the bridge.
It is one thing to watch a dog chased off the field by an official at the Super Bowl, quite another to witness a stray lobster boat shepherded off the America's Cup course by a Coast Guard cutter with siren blaring. Now that's grandeur. In such surroundings, one needs drama less than [WORD ILLEGIBLE] .
And when it's over, those involved go the blues.
Randy Spencer will miss the crowd that had gathered nightly at One Pelham East, across America's Cup Avenue from Courageous' dock at Bannis ter's Wharf, to hear him sing his original sea chanty "Eagle Eyes," a ballad to that seafaring good old boy, Ted Turner, the gale force who blew himself into the calm, reactionary world of America's Cup.
Turner's cigar-puffing, hard-working and hard-drinking braggadocio has been a big part of the fun in Newport this summer. "The Mouth of the South" - tall, handsome, and swaggering - has been alternately erudite and earthy, charming and churlish, bright and a boastful, insuperable and insufferable.
He has made the stuffier members of the NYYC Race Committee pop the brass buttons of their yachting jackets, and has created popular interest in an exclusive sport the man in the mainstream never cared about before.
And even those who loathe Atlantan Turner's grab-all-the-usto life-style, grudgingly admit that "Terrible Ted" was the best skipper to navigate Rhode Island Sound this summer.
Turner and 1974 defender Courageous were underdogs against newer hulls, Independence and Enterprise, when trials began in June, but as Turner says, "We worked our BEE-hinds off. We had the best crew that's ever been put together in a 12-meter. We had to earn everything we got in arduous competition, and that welded us into a great team."