Ted Turner, the most successful yachtsman of his time, is hanging up his boat shoes. Maybe for good.
Turner was in Washington yesterday for a press conference about his cable television network. He came, as he generally does, to take on the big boys, the three established networks. He said the network TV executives were poisoning America's collective mind.
But before he got to that, as he waited in the dark wings of the stage he would occupy, the man they call Captain Outrageous had these bitter words to say about sailing:
"I'm through with sailing," Turner said. "I don't want to even talk about it. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the professionalism; the downright cheating. Did you read about the SORC (the recent Southern Ocean Racing Circuit, after which the top three finishers were disqualified for rules violations)? I'm through with it."
Turner's great ocean racer, Tenacious, is for sale and probably will change hands before week's end. The sleek aluminum 63-footer, built a decade ago and still at the top of the hugely competitive big-boat pile, carried the 42-year-old Turner and his crew to victories in practically every significant ocean racing series in the western world.
"It's the winningest boat in the world," said Jim Mattingly, who acted as crew and boat boss for Turner in his offshore exploits.
Mattingly said Turner called him about three weeks ago and said, "Look, what do you think about scrapping all the (racing) plans for the summer?" Mattingly said Turner claimed he was too busy to race, and Mattingly agreed that the racing schedule would be hard on several crew members.
"A day later," Mattingly said, "he called back and said, 'Scrap the plans and sell the boat.'"
Turner said yesterday that he has no plans to return to ocean racing, and that if he does any competitive sailing it will be day racing his Hobie Cat around Charleston, S.C.
So ends an era in yatch racing that saw this once-arcane sport spring into the consciousness of everyday America. Turner, with his outrageous, mouthy America's Cup victory in 1977, brought notoriety on what until then had been a sport conducted for and by the stuffy rich.
After Turner's Courageous defeated Australia, 4-0, in the 1977 final he paraded through the streets of Newport, R.I., swilling whiskey. He had to be supported by police and happy yachties as he led the press through its most memorable Cup press conference.
Members of the staid New York Yacht Club were publicly horrified at this display, but privately many said Turner had humanized the Cup and expanded interest in it. In 1980, when Turner and Courageous went down to resounding Cup defeat at the hands of Dennis Conner's well-funded Freedom syndicate, the first question visitors to Newport asked, even long after Courageous' fate was sealed, was, "Where's Ted?"
If his Cup achievements brought Turner public acclaim, it was on the open sea in the sport called ocean racing that he made his mark among his peers, shortly after he was kicked out of Brown University, where he won his first sailing national championship in dinghy racing. Turner, by the time he was 26, he had raced his own yacht transatlantic and had begun to dominate the most prestigious annual ocean racing event in the United States, the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit.
In the late 1960s he stormed the major ocean racing events with a converted 12-meter, American Eagle, a daring move that traditional racers said would never work. Under Turner it worked. Later he had a series of fast conventional boats and, finally, in 1975 he bought Tenacious, used, from a Chicago man.
The white aluminum yacht's credentials have been impeccable. Mattingly ticked the title off: Several Class A victories in SORC, Miami Nassau overall winner; Miami Montego Bay; New York Yacht Club overall winner; Annapolis-Newport; Class A in the Newport-Bermuda race; winner of DuPont Series; Chesapeake Bay fall series; Fastnet race; Cowes Week overall winner; Queens Cup.
Turner was named yachtsman of the year four times, the first time that ever happened.
Says Gary Jobson, the Annapolis sailing wizard who joined Turner on Tenacious, Courageous and in 6-meter and Congressional Cup competition: "I sailed with him for four years. We probably did 300 races and I bet we won half of them. I doubt that there will be another record like that put together."
So why quit now?
"I think Ted decided that if he couldn't do it all the way, he wouldn't do it at all." Jobson said.
"He's the best ocean racer there is, and i've sailed with them all," Jobson said. "Turner is to ocean racing what the Beatles were to rock. Nobody even comes close. And I think Turner's quitting is like the Beatles breaking up. It's the right time, because in his mind he wants to do other things."