old guard


old guard
Contributor Jeremy "SurfCityCatamarans" Leonard gets down and dirty (okay, maybe not so dirty) with Halsey Herreshoff last week at the America’s Cup celebration in San Francisco. 

Let’s face it; having the next America’s Cup in San Francisco would be pretty incredible. I envision Crissy Field, The City Front, Treasure Island, The East Bay shores, Sausalito and every other beach, island and bridge stacked with spectators in what would be one huge nautical coliseum. The course: like a 3 bridge Fiasco on steroids perhaps? Who knows? I picture big, high-tech boats in 25 knots and that infamous short-chop that The Bay is known for, and it’s a hell of a picture.

In the past, Larry Ellison has said that possible venues for the next Cup include Newport, San Francisco and San Diego, but after the awards ceremony at the San Francisco City Hall, both Ellison and Mayor Newsome made it clear that they want the Cup to be held in SF. Just before giving the Key to the city to Ellison, Mayor Newsome began the ceremony by saying, “So it is right and proper that not only we celebrate today’s accomplishment but the hope and expectation that the effects of this Cup will continue here. I’ve got friends in San Diego, I know the governor may be here from Rhode Island… we’re gonna make a very strong case for San Francisco.” Having the mayor on your side is a great place to start, and having more than 3,200 folks signed up for the "bring the AC to SF" Facebook page doesn’t hurt either – there’s got to be a lot of SF voters in that group…

Ellison followed, “…this has always been my favorite place to sail, what other place in the world can you get 28 knots of breeze, everyday, guaranteed, it’s a fantastic place…We’ll look forward to hosting Team New Zealand, Team South Africa, the Swedes and the Brits, the French, the Chinese, the Italians, all of those teams from all over the world once again will be competing for the oldest trophy in sport, The America’s Cup! We’ll be competing in your city.”

Barring the fine print, it sounds like the deal is sealed. This week, anyway.

There was, however, one guy in the rather large crowd in the Rotunda that was there to hand-deliver a letter written by Rhode Island’s Governor to Mr. Ellison, arguing that the Cup should be brought back to his state. Rhode Island State officials were banking on their state’s rich nautical heritage, and the open waters of Narragansett Bay to lure Ellison and the BMWO Racing Team to their waters for the 34th America’s Cup. They’ve even got a committee put together and are busy issuing press releases and doing whatever it is a committee does, and who better to represent that committee than marine architect, navigator for the defense of several America’s Cups, and president of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, and grandson to Captain Nat – Halsey Herreshoff. 

It just so happened that Mr. Herreshoff was sitting at the table next to me at the StFYC, so I waited for him to finish lunch and nabbed him for a quick interview. I must say that I was a little nervous, so I hit the bar for a rum beforehand to calm myself, though I needn’t have bothered.   Mr. Herreshoff is very personable and most willing to talk, and as we shared a drink and he told sea stories, I was transported from the era of carbon fiber and court dates to wooden boats and iron sailors… and as different as those eras are, it all seems to come together and find a commonality around the America’s Cup.  Here’s the text of our discussion.

SA: What’s your assessment of the 33rd America’s Cup?

HH: I just got back from Valencia, from seeing the races and I enjoyed tremendously the technology.

SA: Your Family has a great history of advancing sailing technology, especially the multihull Amaryllis, somewhat an ancestor of the BMWO 90.

HH: Quite right!

SA: Tell me a little about it.

HH: When my grandfather was 26 years old, he made an amazing trip around the Mediterranean and Rhine River and all, and that was in 1874. And I think he probably saw in the Med, some outrigger boats, which were rather like the boats in Polynesia. So that when he got back home he made a multihull model about 3 feet long, and he sailed it. And in his Memoirs he says he was astounded at how fast it went, so he started building catamarans, and he got a U.S. Patent on it in 1877. We have his patent models and the actual restoration of it, so he really was the first one to have a catamaran in America.

He went down to a race, which was the centennial of the Declaration of Independence. He went down to New York and asked if he could join this overnight race, and they told him no, we can’t have a contraption like that in here. Finally he persuaded them to let him race, and it was an overnight race, and he finished that evening and the rest came in the next morning. From then on they don’t allow catamarans to race in Long Island Sound. Then he built about twenty more of those boats. Sometimes he cruised them, sold them all. That was the beginning of it and if he were alive today, he’d be fascinated by these two boats that raced in Valencia.

SA: What do you think about the solid wing?

HH: Clearly a good idea. The fact that it was tall is important, but the main thing is that it’s much more efficient than a sail, because, one you don’t have the problem with flow over the mast, and then the fact that it is loaded up with a flap is another thing. Larry Ellison claims that it makes twice the lift of a sail plan, and that may well be true.

SA: I hear you’re here on specific business.

HH: Well, I’m here really because I’m the president of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame and I like to keep connected. I was in Valencia and it was such a thrill I decided to come both here to help celebrate and tomorrow in San Diego. But also we’d be very pleased if the America’s Cup would come to Rhode Island. At least what will come to Rhode Island I’m sure is one of the preliminary races.

SA: You were at the celebration at City Hall and heard both Ellison and Mayor Newsom? There’s a lot of weight pushing it here to the West Coast.  

HH: That’s understandable. What I liked about it was that the intensions of Mr. Ellison and Russell Coutts sound very commendable. They want to have an open series with all the other countries invited and let them give input. They don’t want to have the circumstances fail where the committee that runs it isn’t under the control of anybody, and judges that aren’t under the control of anybody, all the things that should be done, which were the opposite of what Mr. Bertarelli wanted to do. I hope it all happens that way. One of the things that Russell Coutts said in Valencia after they won, was that he wanted the next one to uphold the tradition of The Cup. I think that’s important because Mr. Bertarelli wanted to cast aside the tradition and remake it in his own image. But when you have something as substantial and successful and built on tradition as the America’s Cup, I think you’ve got to be careful with changes. I think it’s better to amplify it and keep it going in the right direction.

For one thing, they want to decide what boats to use and all, and I like the role of technology, the America’s Cup has always been about the combination of design and of course sailing, and I think that’s what we want, 50% technology and 50% sailing for the match race, and I hope that that’s the way it will come out.

I don’t know if you know or not, but my family built 8 boats that defended the America’s Cup.

SA:  That’s quite a history. So to you what is the spirit of the America’s Cup?

HH: I would say that the spirit and tradition of the America’s cup is that you compete very hard and part of that is that you build the best possible boat, the state of the art. The other half is to have a sailing team that can compete within the Match Race tactics, which I think is sort of the chess game of sailing. So I think we want to have both things, and I think that if it’s like Mr. Ellison’s idea that it’s on monohulls, then it’s got to be fast ones.

SA: Thanks so much for the interview.

HH: Anytime. Great to meet you.