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12’s The Easy Way

race report

12’s The Easy Way

With the 33rd America’s Cup all knotted up in court there actually was some "America’s Cup Style" action of the vintage variety going on in Newport. 17 12 Meter yachts including, former America’s Cup challengers and winners, gathered at the long time site of America’s Cup racing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the class and to contest the 12 Meter World Championship. Racing in four classes – Grand Prix, Modern, Traditional and Vintage – started on Wednesday and went through Saturday with an awards ceremony at the New York Yacht Club on Sunday.

The first day saw 3 races completed with Wright on White coming in with two firsts and a second leading Kiwi Magic, USA, and America II in the Grand Prix division. Victory 83 also came in with two firsts and a second to lead the field of 5 in the Modern division. In the Traditional class, Weatherly came in with a pair of bullets and a a second to lead Columbia, American Eagle, Nefertiti, and Easterner. In the Vintage class the leader, Northern Light, once again had two firsts and a second to lead Gleam and Onawa.

Thursday saw one race completed before the wind clocked from WSW to NNW before pretty much crapping out. The race committee attempted to get the Candy Store Cup in and there was a pretty interesting race going on as the breeze started to fill. On the east side of the course, right up against R6, a serious battle between Kiwi Magic and Wright on White was being fought with the lead changing every few seconds. But the breeze really filled in on the west side of the course and USA was there to take advantage and pick up a commanding lead. It looked like they were going to run away with it until the clock struck 1700 and USA got screwed by time running out. Thursday’s party featured a panel (called The Legends Forum) moderated by Gary Jobson that included some of the greats of the 12 Meter era reminiscing about bygone days. The highlight of the panel by most accounts was when Skip Lissiman asked Halsey Herreshoff why they hadn’t covered in 1983.

The forecast for Friday was calling for 10-15 but we awoke to 15-20 with the airport (in shore) reporting gusts up to 30. The race committee headed north of the bridge and so we drove up towards Bristol to see what we could see. We pulled off the road just north of the naval base and could see the committee boat and the two mark boats tooling around out there. We figured that if we saw them setting marks we would pop up to the boat ramp and put in there. After about a half hour RC came on the radio and extended the postponement until the next day. We headed back to Newport, put the boat away, and headed down to the wharf to see if there was anything going on.

The closer we got to Bannisters, the more we started running across guys in sea boots with shopping bags. The Black Pearl was packed with people in crew shirts swapping stories. We made our obligatory t-shirt and cap purchases and then headed to the pub around the corner since it was now past noon and we needed lunch (and beer). Just as we finished our lunch, our (until then) quiet little pub was invaded by the crew of Columbia who turned out to be our kind of people, an impression that was cemented when a crew messenger burst into the pub to announce that the Black Seal party tent had just opened (2 hours early) clearing the room. The scene that night was pure sailor party in spite of the fact that the boats were thoroughbreds. Owners walked around smoking cigars, tacticians crowded around the screen with the Kattack data, grinders were duking it out trying to best one another on the Harken grinding computer thing, and the rest of the crews were sampling the fine rum concoctions.

Saturday dawned very early with RC amending the SIs so that the first announcement could be made at 8:30 with the first warning signal scheduled for 10:30. The announcement included the mention that "On this day in history" the Australians beat the US to wrest the cup from the iron fisted grip of the New York Yacht Club after 132 years. On the course, the day started with a nice breeze out of the NE which was supposed to clock around to the SE in the afternoon. By the time the first course was set, the breeze had shifted around to the east and then clocked around some more to the south necessitating a course change. Kiwi Magic took the race in division 1 which cemented the overall win with 3 bullets and 2 seconds overall. With 5 races complete the boats now had enough for a throw away. Freedom pulled out a first in Division 2, with American eagle and Gleam taking divisions 3 and 4 respectively. The second race of the day saw a major shift to the south with the breeze oscillating between 120º and 150º. Once again the second windward leg was adjusted further south. There was some real drama when Nefertiti slammed head on into Columbia causing significant damage to both boats including getting Nefertiti’s spinnaker pole stuck between Columbia’s shrouds causing it to explode. Nobody was seriously injured and Columbia went straight to NEB to make sure the rig was saved. As Columbia was on starboard tack, they filed a protest and got some redress.

In between the end of the second race and the start of the Candy Store Cup the spectator fleet was treated to a brief visit from Hanuman, the massive new J Class yacht currently hanging out at Newport Shipyard. While every single photographer on the water tried, unsuccessfully, to will Hanuman over to the race course for some comparison shots with the twelves, our collective wishing was to no avail and Hanuman sailed off to the west.

While a down wind start with 15 12 meter yachts is pretty amazing, the most spectacular part of the Candy Store Cup has to be the finish. The finish line is the end of the dock and the boats were so close that my widest lens was barely wide enough. Victory ’83 won the race home which had to be a sweet addition to the fact that they also took the Modern division with Courageous, Freedom, Intrepid, and Challenge 12 finishing in that order. Kiwi Magic took the Grand Prix division just one point ahead of Wright on White followed by USA and America II. Division 3 saw American Eagle eking out a come from behind win  over Weatherly with Columbia, Nefertiti, and Easterner finishing in that order. The fourth division closed out with Gleam winning over Northern Light and Onawa. Full results here.

It was pretty amazing to see that many great boats together at one time. And while this may not be the America’s Cup (one could argue that the America’s Cup is currently not the America’s Cup but we’ll save that for the forums), these are the boats I grew up with back when sailing used to be televised in this country and seeing them up close took me back to the first seeds of what got me interested in sailing. I can tell you that they are amazing to watch. Even more so when you realize that one of them has quietly tacked behind you and you are sitting in a 15 foot RIB directly in the path of a boat with a very pointy end. ESPN Classic will be running a film of the regatta on November 9.  – Peter Howson. More photos here.