1971: Ted Heath's new Morning Cloud

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

The standard of competition was worrying the British selectors. It was strange therefore that they elected to stay with a four race selection series particularly when the trialists numbered 27, of which 15 were new boats that season.

Ted Heath's win in the Sydney-Hobart Race of 1969 was an obvious inspiration both to him, to buy a new boat for the Admiral's Cup competition to replace the S&S 34 foot Morning Cloud, and to others in Britain to emulate the deeds of the yachting politician. Heath went to Italy to look at a new Sparkman & Stephens-designed 42 footer in the spring of 1970. With him were two of his victorious Hobart crew, Anthony Churchill and Owen Parker. He was sure that he wanted to go with Olin Stephens and the Italian boat was just about the size that he favoured. It therefore came as no surprise when the news leaked out that the boat that Clare Lallow was to build for Heath came from the Madison Avenue firm of naval architects and that it was 42 feet overall. It went on to be the Yacht of the Year in 1971, earlier proving its worth as the only consistent performer in the British trials.

Right: Ragamuffin. Click for larger image. 1971

One thing that was certain, before the racing began, was that the Americans were determined to retain the trophy they had won two years earlier and that the Australians were about as serious as they could possibly be. It was also true that other countries had a long way to go to catch up with the big three in this sport. That did not, however, mean that other countries were not there; far from it - the number of countries went up from 11 to 17, perhaps reflecting the effect of the new IOR rule, being used for the first time in the Admiral's Cup. Austria, Belgium, Brazil, New Zealand, Poland and South Africa were the debutantes and, while Finland withdrew, her Scandinavian neighbour Sweden returned to the competition.

The leap to 51 (or as it turned out 48) boats from 33 was bound to strain the facilities at Cowes. Groves and Gutteridge had only just begun to build their marina and in consequence the boats were distributed in several places. The sponsorship of Dunhill did, however, help to provide better onshore facilities than ever before in Cowes for those specifically taking part in the Cup rather than the Cowes Week competitors. The RORC "tent", in an old boatshed at Groves and Gutteridge, housed a bar (with Douglas transshipped from the St James's clubhouse for the period) and a press office with Cup results provided by a separate service to Cowes Week.

A warmer hand than ever was stretched out to the visitors. Previously overseas teams had kept to themselves, perhaps because of shyness, perhaps because of the lack of fore-thought by the RORC, perhaps simply because there was no centre for the Cup crews in Cowes. The somewhat snobbish attitude of the Clubs did nothing to make them welcome and the RORC did not have a tangible presence in Cowes for them. In 1969 the RORC's host to the Italian team found his visitors difficult to contact as they returned each night after racing to Camper & Nicholson's marina at Gosport.

The Argentinians based themselves at Lymington but their host lived nearby and this relationship worked well. In 1971 greater care was taken to make adequate provision for the visitors, a problem which was further alleviated two years later when Groves and Gutteridge's marina was able to accommodate all the Admiral's Cup yachts in the north-end basin.

With the Cup being held under the IOR rules for the first time, the limits were broad indeed. Yachts of between 29 and 60 feet IOR were eligible for the series.

On the far side of the world Australian yachtsmen were more than ever determined to win back the Cup. Arthur Byrne's Salacia had just been edged out of selection for the Cup in 1965 by Carpice of Huon and with the change of rule he commissioned a new Ragamuffin style boat from Sparkman & Stephens, one specially designed to take advantage of the IOR rather than the RORC rule to which Ragamuffin had been built.

Byrne and Syd Fischer have a great deal in common. Both are self-made millionaires and both enjoy the physical demands of offshore racing and the post-race parties that go with it. But for Byrne to match Fischer with an almost identical 48 footer meant that he would have a yardstick against which to race in order to bring his boat into top line. He also retained Graham Newland to supervise the building and tuning of his new boat, lifting Newland from the crew of Ragamuffin to do so. It added yet another dimension to the rivalry that was to exist throughout the Austrialian summer of 1970-71.

The duels between Salacia II and Ragamuffin were a feature of the Sydney racing. Rags remained top boat at the end of the season, but all the while Salacia II closed the gap between them. The two finished first and second in the Admiral's Cup Trials well ahead of the rest. The third member of the team was Koomooloo, purchased after the '69 Cup by Norman Rydge and skippered by Jock Sturrock, the helmsman of the Australian challengers for the America's Cup in 1962 and 1967.

The Australians had the intensive backing of a team manager who was determined to win. Gordon Reynolds had sailed with Gordon Ingate on Caprice of Huon in 1965 and had skippered the yacht when Australia won the Cup in 1967. He was certain that the way to winning lay with practice and set up a series of Sunday sessions of the chosen team after a Saturday race with the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia. Rags and Salacia II were ideally matched and, for Koomooloo, Peter Cole's 43 foot Bacardi provided a perfect foil. Cole then ran the Hood sail loft in Sydney and he made all the sails for the team.

Reynolds pushed for the two-boat training system which allowed Cole to evaluate individual sails and sail combinations. In this way Ragamuffin and Salacia II were able to perfect the cutter-rigged, twin-headsail combination that they used so effectively to windward in strong breezes during the Cup race. Reynolds did not stop with sails and boathandling, he went on to eliminate any area of possible error. He held navigators' meetings to remove any chance of failure to appreciate the vagaries of the Solent tides and the buoyage of the English Channel. He went as far as ensuring that there was one man responsible for the catering on each boat and that he would have his plans to feed the crew fully prepared before he left Australia.

Reynolds also believed that the crew had to work together to have any chance of success. For that reason he insisted that they stayed in the same accommodation in Cowes. "We live together and we stick together," he said. "I think in that lies a lot of our strength." Reynolds' word was law. In 1971 he had to face a cost of $55,000 to ship the three boats to Britain and to fly his crewmen to Cowes, and that sum had to be raised. Having done so, with the help of Dunhill and Qantas among others, Reynolds had no difficulty in identifying his team as official representatives of Australia. Because of that he made them work hard, not only in their training in Australia but also when they arrived in Britain, well ahead of the Cup races.

Their early arrival enabled the Australian trio to take part in two RORC races and two in the Solent. Reynolds was pleased about that. It gave him a few days' respite from his otherwise monotonous job, "sitting by myself, stopwatch in hand, in a little dinghy out in the middle of the Solent", as he watched the three crews in training. He refused to leave anything to chance. He, too, was a great believer in the Ted Heath maxim: "If you deserve to win, you win."

Heath had won the 1970 General Election in Britain with the Conservative Party and was Prime Minister. It turned the media interest in the Admiral's Cup into front-page material overnight. Even the trials were considered newsworthy, whereas in the past the event itself had warranted no more than brief mentions on the sports pages and the television coverage was reduced to a minimum.

The Americans, to defend the Cup, chose Dick Nye's Carina, a boat built to the CCA rule but well-sailed and always a serious competitor; Bay Bea, Pat Haggerty's Sparkman & Stephens sistership to Salacia II; and the brand-new Yankee Girl, an aluminium hulled Sparkman & Stephens 55 footer built by Palmer Johnson for David Steere, which had finished second in overall fleet standing in the SORC to Running Tide earlier in the year. It was a team of biggish boats, one to which the British selectors looked with some feeling when making their choice.

Apart from one boat, the selection of the British team cannot have been easy. Once again, despite Colonel Wylie's warning, the selectors made their decision based on the results of four races, two in the Solent together with the Morgan Cup and the Royal Sovereign Race.

Don Parr's Nicholson 55 Quailo III won the Morgan Cup outright, a race which favoured the bigger boats. The early force 3-4 breezes gave way to nothing towards the end. Arthur Slater's Prospect of Whitby, an aluminium Sparkman & Stephens 42 footer right at the bottom end of class I, took fourth in her class and overall to indicate her true potential. The new Morning Cloud took class II and was eighth overall, further indicating to the selectors the problem they faced should the Admiral's Cup series favour big boats. Bob Watson's Cervantes IV, at 29.5 foot rating near the bottom limit, could only manage fifth in class.

Inshore, Quailo III put up some impressive performances as did David Powell's Mersea Oyster but, even in strong breezes, the smaller boats remained at the front of the fleet so that when the Le Havre/Royal Sovereign Race started from Southsea the three places were virtually wide open and only Morning Cloud seemed assured of her place. The final trial provided an ideal test with tactics, other than navigation, hardly coming into consideration. The race was a test of boat speed, particularly to windward, and it was Morning Cloud and Cervantes IV that came out on top of class II and overall, but from class I Prospect of Whitby took third place in the race, leaving the selectors very little room to manoeuvre a big boat into the series, at least on the results of the trials.

RORC Commodore David Edwards put the selectors' view when announcing the team of Morning Cloud, Prospect of Whitby and Cervantes IV. "There was", he said, "no point in choosing a big boat unless it was better than a smaller boat." It is a philosophy which many tend to forget, one which the New Zealanders have proved to be right over and over again in the Southern Cross Cup, and one which all selectors should remember: that the boats in form are the right ones to select.

The choice delighted clubs on the East Coast. Cervantes IV's crew were all from that area and the boat represented the Royal Burnham Yacht Club. Prospect of Whitby carried the white rose of the Royal Yorkshire Yacht Club while the Royal Burnham Yacht Club burgee could be found aboard Cloud. Cervantes IV also included the first lady to be chosen for a British Admiral's Cup team. Bob Watson's daughter Liz was a regular member of the crew along with her husband.

The fleet was based at Camper & Nicholson's marina at Gosport, handy for the start of the Channel Race from the Royal Albert Yacht Club line at Southsea. A quarter of an hour before noon on Friday July 30th, the gun fired to start the Cup series. It was a beat to the Royal Sovereign Light Ship. It was only just possible to cross the line on starboard tack and there was a benefit of better favourable tide at the leeward end of the line. Nevertheless the best start was made by Dick Carter at the wheel of Baron Edmond de Rothschild's Gitana V which he had designed. He aimed for the weather end of the line on starboard tack and as the gun fired flipped over on to port into a hole he had created for the 60 foot sloop. With her crew grinding her big genoa in, Gitana V carved clear of the fleet and away towards the east, out through the forts to the Owner Light Vessel.

The beat needed skillful judgement. A fair tide for six hours took the fleet out to sea but found them heading inshore at the start of the ebb. Just where to come in was of major importance; Ragamuffin went in too soon and paid the penalty - not as much, however, as those who stayed offshore too long. The British team seemed to have all got it right; aiming to come inshore just to the east of the piers at Brighton and from there they could virtually fetch on port tack along the coat to beachy Head before standing out to sea for the Royal Sovereign.

Prospect of Whitby rounded in just under twelve hours, ahead of the larger Italian Levantades in company with Carina, Bay Bea and Jakaranda. Cervantes IV and Morning Cloud were half an hour later just astern of Ragamuffin. The course to Le Havre started as a close reach with the wind veering into the south-west and further to westerly. Those who stayed to windward of the rhumb line benefited when the wind later backed, all the British team being among them. The reach home via the Nab ensured a fast time, the converted 12-Metre American Eagle of Ted Turner completing the 225 miles in 24 1/2 hours. Prospect of Whitby took a mere 33 hours and won the race overall. She was 3 minutes ahead, on corrected time, of the British reserve, Qualilo III. Yankee Girl was second of the Cup boats with Morning Cloud and Cervantes IV giving the British team a huge lead by placing third and fifth respectively. They scored 270 points to the 234 of the USA, Bay Bea was seventh and Carina eighteenth, while the Australian trio, Salacia II, Ragamuffin and Koomooloo placed fourth, thirteenth and nineteenth for 216 points. The French chances disappeared completely as Gitana V rounded the wrong buoy off Le Havre and Eric Tabarly's Pen Duick III failed to turn up in time for safety scrutiny and was disqualified.

In a moderate breeze on the Monday the British fortunes waned. One of the teams failed to keep out of trouble and the huge points lead almost evaporated. Cervantes IV was caught on port at the start by Koomooloo reaching down the line on starboard. Bob Watson claimed that he had made his tack on to starboard in time but the protest committee found otherwise and disqualified the British boat. The incident did little for international harmony but Koomooloo was justified in holding her course and Cervantes was wrong not to alter hers earlier.

It was a race of considerable reaching and beating and one in which Yankee Girl revelled. She showed Prospect of Whitby the correct way to tackle the Solent tides from Hampstead Ledge to the East Bramble. Prospect elected to go to the north shore in the hope of catching the first of the flood tide but had to run off square for some time to get there; Yankee Girl headed straight for the mark to win the race not only be being first home but also on corrected time, some 52 seconds ahead of Prospect.

With Ted Heath away in the House of Commons, it was Sammy Sampson who skippered Morning Cloud into fourth place behind Peter Vroon and Frans Maas in Standfast for Holland. Had Cervantes IV's eleventh been allowed to stay, the British would have had a comfortable lead. Only the failure of one member of each of the other leading teams kept the home side ahead. Carina and Bay Bea were eleventh and thirtieth while the Australians were seventh, ninth and twenty-second with Ragamuffin, Koomooloo and Salacia II, the last slowed by a fouled genoa sheet before the start. After two races the points were Britain 360, USA 351, Australia 323, Argentina 303 and Italy 271. The rash of lapel buttons began with "Ted's Ahead" and "Slater is Greater"; censorship was applied to the Cervantes' crew who wanted theirs to read "Up your flue, Koomooloo!"

The second inshore race was held in much brisker breezes and it seemed that Yankee Girl was going to prove how right her designers, Olin and Rod Stephens who were racing on board, were, she would have won but she fell into an old Cowes trap, passing the wrong side of the distance mark as she went past the Squadron. It resulted in her disqualification, a similar penalty having been meted out to "Shorty" Trimmingham's Wizard of Paget in the previous race.

Gitana V had led early on but broke a gooseneck fitting and was forced to retire. Levantades hit the Hampstead Ledge mark and every boat broached wildly on the long run back from the West Solent. Ted Heath, back on Morning Cloud for the race, commented in reply to a press question on whether it had happened more than once: "I'm not a one broach man." He was not alone in the force 7 breeze.

It was the little Carter-designed Beita VII from Holland which claimed the day. She rounded the Hampstead Ledge alongside Morning Cloud and must have led on handicap at this stage. The conditions were just what the Australians had said they wanted and they proved that they meant it. Salacia II, Ragamuffin and Koomooloo finished second, third and fourth to amass 135 points to Britain's 120 - Prospect, Cervantes and Morning Cloud were fifth, ninth and tenth respectively. The overall position changed. With only the triple-pointed Fastnet to come the scoreline of the leaders was: Britain 480, Australia 458, USA 419, Argentina 392 and South Africa 340.

One sight that did attract that day was that of the Gary Mull-designed Improbable, the sole New Zealand entry, surfing up the Solent at incredible speeds to take sixth place on corrected time, her best performance to date.

The Fastnet was a truly testing one. The winds varied from flat calm to gale and the race was probably won and lost in the first 24 hours, although courage to pile on sail during the run home from the Rock undoubtedly contributed to the overall positions. The start was in force 4 from the west, giving a beat out of the Solent into the Channel. The calms came as the fleet was rounding the Portland Bill and heading west towards the Lizard. Cervantes IV was always in the van in the early stages and indeed it was she who led on corrected time at the Rock from Ragamuffin.

Ragamuffin was only four hours astern of American Eagle when she rounded the Fastnet Rock and the story of her run to the Bishop Rock remains one of the legends of this great race. The north to north-east wind blew up to 40 knots as Syd Fischer and his crew drove Ragamuffin unmercifully. Rags was sailed like a surfboat and, as a one-time surfboat sweep, Syd knew what he was at, shooting the waves at 14 knots. The bow wave went 7 feet up the mast, then suddenly the boat was lying flat on its side in 15 foot waves after a gybe broach. She lay there for what Syd afterwards felt was ten minutes until crewman Doug Patterson was able to get the boom preventer off and the boat staggered to her feet with the spinnaker shaking itself to death, tearing into shreds and wrapping itself around the standing rigging. Soon Ragamuffin was running under main and a poled-out genoa while the crew sorted out the gear to set another spinnaker, this time a 3 ounce storm chute that was virtually bullet proof.

Once again the speed was clocking 14 knots plus as the Australian boat surged through the waves. At one time she "doubled the wave", surfing down the face of one, continuing to surf up the back of the next and down its face. At the end of the 106-mile leg Ragamuffin had averaged more than 9 knots and that included the time lost for the lay-down broach. Carrying a spinnaker was perhaps a little crazy but it made the difference over those boats that were only setting poled-out genoas - she finished the race only two minutes behind Yankee Girl who had blown out one of hers and ran for a long time with a poled-out genoa. It gave Ragamuffin the race overall by 2 hours and 23 minutes from Don Parr's Quailo III, an incredible performance by any standards.

Johnson was eighth and the sadness for the Australians was that shortly after rounding the Fastnet, Koomooloo had lost her rudder - it came off its stock - and she was forced to retire. Had she finished twelfth or better, and there was every indication that she would have done, the Australians would have won the Cup. But, had the navigator of Yankee Girl understood the Cowes Week race instructions, she would have won the second inshore race and the USA would have retained the Cup. As it was, the second place of Cervantes IV together with Prospect of Whitby's twelfth and Morning Cloud's fourteenth gave Britain a total of 828 points to 782 for the USA, who had the best team score in the Fastnet (Yankee Girl third, Bay Bea fifth and Carina fifteenth), and 719 for Australia.


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