Charlie Scott, the Chesapeake Bay sailor who stunned the yachting community by winning the prestigious Southern Ocean Racing Circuit in Florida this winter, is being courted for an America's Cup challenge.
Scott and fellow Annapolis resident Gary Jobson were invited to Bermuda two weeks ago to sail 12-meter yachts with Buddy Melges, who heads the Heart of America Challenge out of Chicago.
Melges, 55, an Olympic gold medalist and three-time North American men's sailing champion, said the experiment in sailing compatability worked and he wants both Scott and Jobson "in the back of the boat with me" during his drive to return the Cup to the United States in February 1987.
Twelve meters carry a crew of 11, three of whom are considered the brain trust and do the thinking and plot maneuvers from the cockpit section at the rear of the boat.
Scott, 30, who runs a small boat yard near Annapolis, has not sailed 12 meters competitively before, but is considered one of the hottest skippers in the world. He said he would want to vie with Melges for the right to steer. "All I want is an equal chance to drive the boat," said Scott.
Jobson, 34, was tactician aboard Courageous in 1977, when she won the America's Cup, and sailed again in 1980 and 1983 in unsuccessful efforts. He said after the last Cup series he wasn't interested in competing again except as a skipper, but said last week, "I don't have those aspirations any more. I know my strengths."
Both Jobson and Scott said they would not decide whether to join Melges' challenge until fund-raising efforts are a few weeks further along. "If it looks like it can work, I'd love to go," said Scott.
Melges was flying in from Zenda, Wis., to meet again with Jobson and Scott in Washington today and Wednesday.
The Heart of America Challenge effort has gained strength recently with the addition of top yacht designer German Frers and with pledges of moral support from Illinois Gov. James Thompson and financial support from a range of Midwestern corporations.
"In November I gave them about a 10 percent chance of making it to Perth (Australia)," where the races will be held, said Jobson. "In January it looked about 50-50 and right now I'd give them a 75 percent chance of getting there."
The first thing the Heart of America Challenge needs is a yacht. Melges said he has raised less than half the $7 million budgeted to compete, but is optimistic. He's working on buying Spirit of America or Clipper, cast-off 12-meters, to begin training and to use later as a trial horse.
He said Frers and the design team, which includes Annapolis computer expert George Hazen, will draw up one new boat, with the option of building a second if needed.
Melges heads one of six U.S. syndicates working to retake yachting's most treasured prize, which was captured by Australia II in September 1983, after 132 years of U.S. domination.
Dennis Conner, who won the Cup on Freedom in 1980, heads a syndicate in San Diego; the New York Yacht Club heads another that already has built one boat, America II, and is testing it under skipper John Kolius; St. Francis Yacht Club is mounting a challenge in San Francisco; the Defender/Courageous syndicate is operating in Newport, R.I., and Eagle Syndicate is practicing with discarded 12-meters Magic and Victory '83 in Newport Beach, Calif.
Melges said his group would work out with the Eagle Syndicate, a practice previously unimaginable.
"That's one reason Melges' operation is exciting," said Jobson. "If the American effort is going to succeed, there has to be sharing between the syndicates. I don't see anyone willing to do that at the moment besides Melges."
A gleam sparkles in the eyes of world class yachtsmen when the subject of 12-meter yachts and the America's Cup arises. It is a dangerous little gleam, diagnosed in sailing circles as "Cup Fever."
There were hints of Cup Fever in Jobson and Scott last week, after two days of sailing the old warhorse Defender in Bermuda. But neither is going off the edge.
"It's a big commitment," said Scott, whose plan was simply to sail the Chesapeake this summer. "What it looks like is sailing this summer, then Perth for three months, then a couple of months more sailing next summer and then to Perth in October, hopefully right on through February," when the Cup finals will be held.
"We're standing by," said Scott. "If we get an offer and the campaign looks good, we go. I'd love to do it. But the only fun in an America's Cup campaign is if you bring (it) home. Otherwise, it's just a long grind."