1957: The First Admiral's Cup

Excerpt from "The Admiral's Cup" by Bob Fisher

Sir Myles Wyatt, then Admiral of the RORC, was keen for British ocean racing crews and skippers to harden

Myth of Malham
Myth of Malham
their approach to the sport. He had seen the way that sport in general was developing and was sure that something similar would happen to ocean racing.

By the mid-fifties there had not been much change in approach for twenty years, not since Olin and Rod Stephens had won the Fastnet Race on two consecutive occasions. True, a war had intervened, but that conflict had seen immense developments in technology that could have affected yachting.

Indeed, they had been reflected in most other spheres. The boom in dinghy sailing was a direct result of the availability of cheap waterproof glues and good waterproof plywood. That brought more people on to the water and, with the greater interchange of ideas, development in ocean racing was only a matter of conservatism protecting a way of life. It couldn't be held off forever. British pride had suffered several blows: after Dorade's wins for the Stephens brothers in 1931 and 1933, Rod was back for the Fastnet in 1935 aboard the Stephens-designed Stormy Weather for another win for America and two years later Kees Bruynzeel won for Holland with another Stephens-designed yawl Zeearend. It was left to Ikey Bell's Bloodhound, later to be owned by Sir Myles Wyatt before it passed into the hands of the British Royal Family, to restore honour for the RORC in 1939. The Fastnet was, after all, the total encapsulation of ocean racing at that time and this was a feeling which continued for many more years.

Increased international competition was bound, in Wyatt's eyes, to improve the standard of ocean racing in Britain and he felt that by encouraging foreign entries to Cowes Week and by having the Week sandwiched with good ocean races, there would be an improvement in British standards of racing. It was to that end that the Admiral's Cup was born.

Wyatt, together with the four men who were to own the three boats which formed Britain's team in the first ever Cup series in 1957, presented a silver gilt cup, then costing 300 pounds, for a challenge to teams from overseas nations over a series comprising the Channel Race, two inshore races in Cowes Week and the Fastnet.

John Illingworth and Peter Green shared Myth of Malham, the legendary boat which Illingworth designed in conjunction with Laurent Giles and Angus Primrose. Illingworth had built her specifically to win races and that she did with unfailing regularity. She won the Fastnet in her first season, 1947, and again in 1949. Illingworth was an obvious partner for Wyatt in this venture. So too was Geoffrey Pattinson whose Jocasta had been first, second and fourth in the three previous Fastnets in class I. Selwyn Slater's Uomie had won her class in the 1953 Fastnet.

In 1957 the Admiral's Cup was largely a private affair with the Americans taking up the challenge. Their yachts had been familiar enough in earlier Cowes Weeks and their performances in Fastnets were as much a cause of the Cup as anything else. The points format of the series put a premium on performances in the offshore races with double points loading on the Channel Race and triple on the Fastnet. That format continued almost to this day and with the now larger number of entries puts an even greater insistence on top performance in the Fastnet.

Necessarily there were no British trials in 1957: the team was self-selection. There had not been a rush to build boats for the event and the ones which did represent Britain were all well-seasoned campaigners; in those days boats were built to last a decade as can be seen by the inclusion of the eleven-year-old Myth in the team. The handicap rule (in Britain it was one administered by the RORC) was perhaps more static. The American rule, that of the Cruising Club of America, developed as a result of that Club's race from newport, Rhode Island, to Bermuda, was also static. But the two were not alike and his posed certain problems as every American yacht racing in Britain had to be re-measured and rated to the RORC rule which was not favourable to boats built to the CCA rules. It was a major problem for which the Admiral's Cup was primarily responsible.

It is doubtful whether Wyatt realised what he had started; in later years he repeatedly said that he did regret the effect that the Admiral's Cup had had upon the sport because winning had become so totally serious a business that the enjoyment of the sport was being lost. On the other hand he had seen the beginnings of that attitude in other sports and must have been aware of the likelihood of the change. 1957, however, was not a year of much progress.

The American team, whilst formidable, was another of seasoned campaigners. Dick Nye's Carina had won the 1955 Fastnet and two transatlantic races and was thoroughly tested and proven yacht. Bill Snaith's Figaro and Blunt White's White Mist had proved their worth in their home waters and were out to do the same in Britain. It was a shame, therefore, that Figaro failed to make the start of the Channel Race and her points loss, even if she had finished sixth of the Cup racers, was the final margin between the teams at the end of the series.

The Channel Race that year is talked of glowingly by those who took part as a great test of sailing and boat handling. It began with a stiff beat from the Royal Albert Yacht Club line at South-sea to the Royal Sovereign Light Vessel off Beachy Head. It was here that the narrower British boat had an advantage over their beamy American rivals and Myth and Uomie shone as the bright stars. They subsequently finished first and second. The leg across Americans come back into the reckoning, particularly the beamy yawl Carina. The first leg, however, had allowed the British boats to build a big lead and at the finish their points score was 22 to the Americans' 14.

The Britannia Cup was chosen as the first of the inshore races. It was held in a fresh breeze and won by Uomie with Myth second and the Americans in the next three places. The British points score advantage went to 11 at 34-23. The second race saw this advantage reduced. While all other racing in the Week was postponed, the RORC sent the six yachts off on time around a special course in no wind and a westerly going tide from the Squadron Line. All six drifted in the mist to the Solent Banks buoy (which is no longer there after sand dredging - not unconnected with a later Admiral's Cup skipper - reduced the hazard), where the race began again with all six at anchor to save further drifting to the west on the tidal current. As the other classes got underway they, too, arrived at Solent Banks and a typical Solent scrum formed around the buoy. It was the first but not the last time that this was to happen in a Cup race: later this crowding was to result in the foreign skippers asking for races outside Cowes Week or around marks that other classes would not use, particularly when the wind was light.

As the tide turned, this mass of boats began to move eastwards and the Cup yachts headed for the West Ryde Middle buoy. The final results were deemed by a reporter of the period to be "remarkably close", the first four boats, Figaro, Uomie, White Mist and Myth being spaced "less than two minutes one from the other in each case". Racing was to become much closer than this as the years went by. The British lead, however, was reduced by three points with the Fastnet to come.

The 1957 Fastnet Race was the one that everyone talked about in terms of awe until 1979; twenty-nine of the forty-one entries retired. It started with the wind force 9 from the west-south-west, a dead beat out of the Solent and through the Needles Channel. It was enough to have John Illingworth approach the RORC Race Committee with the idea of starting the other way and leaving the Isle of Wight to starboard. the idea was rejected then but is now a regular alternative in the Fastnet Race Sailing Instructions for when there is a gale from that same direction. That way the risk of a disabled boat being wrecked on the Shingles Bank is eliminated.

Two depressions passed over the 1957 Fastnet fleet in close succession, the second one providing even stronger winds than the first. Carina was the leader at the Lizard after one of the toughest outward legs along the south-west coast. By then the wind had begun to moderate and the American yawl revelled in the conditions on the way to the rock. With a broad reach back to the bishop, Carina set all her downwind sails, spinnaker and mizzen staysail, almost doubling her sail area, as the wind piped up again with the second gale on its way. When the gale came the light weather sails were handed and Carina romped along under mainsail and staysail. By the bishop, however, the wind had lightened and the full spread of her canvas was once again given an airing. She reached the finishing line in Plymouth having taken only 30 hours from the Rock and averaged 8.3 knots for the whole course. Nye used to encourage his crew by shouting at them, "Is every man a tiger?" They would answer back with a roar, "Grr...grr...grr..." At the end of this race he had more sympathy for them as they had pumped the yacht almost all the way round the course. Carina had fallen off a wave in the Needles Channel and cracked several frames to cause a sever leak. Once across the finishing line off the breakwater at Plymouth, Nye called out to his crew, "OK, boys, we're over now; let the damn boat sink!"

Carina's victory was backed up by White Mist and figaro at fourth and fifth; Myth of Malham and Jocasta took second and third while Uomie retired. It was enough, however, for a British win in the Admiral's Cup but the Fastnet honours were America's with 33 points to 27.

Myth Of Malham

By the time she raced in her first Admiral's Cup event, Myth of Malham had already many miles under her keel. She was built, in 1947, by Hugh McClean & Co at Greenock, to exploit the RORC rule.

The then measurer of the club, Raymond Barrett, after examining the lines plans for two hours with a view to adding more beauty to her with longer overhangs said, "There's nothing we can do about Myth; but she's pretty brilliant as she is, is she not?"

Jack Giles, her designer, had drawn her with 'ends' but John Illingworth insisted on the short overhangs. Her sail plan too was mainly Illingworth's idea - the RORC rule of the time rated the foretriangle at only 85 per cent of its actual area and headsails could have a foot of 150 per cent of the base of the foretriangle. Giles on seeing the sailplan looked horrified and said, "I don't call that a mainsail, it's just a flag abaft the mast."

Illingworth knew what counted in the eyes of the rule and what he could get for free and chose to take advantage where he could.

If the results are the measure of conviction, Illingworth was thoroughly justified in his persistence of exploitation: Myth of Malham is still the only yacht to have raced in five Admiral's Cup series.

The Myth's last serious race was in 1968 when, sailed by Noel Bevan, she was eighth in the Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race. Her final Fastnet was a year later, when she was thirty-fifth in class I.


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