1967: The Aussies' Big Succcess
Excerpt from "The Admiral's Cup" by Bob Fisher
But the Aussies were not crying in their beer. They had done more than might have been expected at their first attempt and they were to return home much the wiser and to make an impact on their country's ocean racing, the like of which no one down-under might have dreamed. Yet, in Plymouth, the Australian team manager, Mervyn Davies, reversed what he had said in Cowes before the final race. Then he had said, "Win, lose or draw, we will be back to keep or to win your Admiral's Cup." In Plymouth he qualified this by saying, "We are too small a country to raise two first-class teams in one year and in 1967 we will be contesting the America's Cup. We will be back but not next time." How some sailors would have been grateful if Davies' words had rung true.
Unfortunately for them there were sailors in Sydney who were not interested in the challenge that Dame Pattie was making in Newport. They had smelled the scent of success and resented having had it whisked from under their noses. They realised they needed different boats from the ones they had sent to Britain in 1965 and they were prepared to do something about it. There was no harm, thought Sir Robert Crighton-Brown, in copying a successful boat. He therefore commissioned Camper & Nicholsons to build him one to the same designs as the 46 foot Quiver IV. Balandra soon proved that she was the fastest boat of her size to windward in Australia and was a universal selection for the team.
Bob Miller (now Ben Lexcen) was a young Sydney sailmaker who had designed several successful dinghies and won more than his fair share of races. He collaborated with Ted Kaufman on the design of the latter's 40 foot Mercedes III (no one to this day, apart from the two of them, knows exactly how the design work was distributed). Kaufman knew the value of a light boat but had to find a way around the RORC rule concerning scantlings. These almost ensured that a light boat would be heavily penalised. But there was to be no denying Kaufman his aim. He found a builder in Cec Quilkey who agreed to build the boat using cold-moulded Oregon.
Mercedes III made an immediate impact after her launch. Her first fourteen starts produced no less than nine firsts, a second and two thirds. Her selection was automatic.
The other team member was the 1965 success, Caprice of Huon. She was fifteen years old but far from dead, as she was to prove five years later when she came within a breath of winning the 635 mile Sydney-Hobart Race.
Two Sparkman & Stephens one-tonners, Clarionet and Roundabout, began mopping up the Solent prizes in such a way in 1966 that people had to sit up and take notice. They took top honours in the Morgan Cup and often beat much bigger boats level around the buoys. Where they differed was in having the keel and rudder separated. The bigger boat owners took note and Dennis Miller had the hull of Firebrand altered in this way and, after a slight flutter when the skeg came off during the Transatlantic Race, she made the team for a second time. She was joined by the 44 foot Noryema V, also with a separate fin and skeg rudder, but from the board of Camper & Nicholsons, and Arthur Slater's Prospect of Whitby.
Two more countries joined the fray that year, with an entry from Finland replacing the Swedish team, and one from Spain with just two boats. It was the debut year, too, for Eric Tabarly who three years earlier had won the singlehanded Transatlantic Race and become a national hero in France, decorated with the Legion d'Honneur by General de Gaulle himself. Tabarly led the French team with the 59 foot Pen Duick III, an aluminium boat with a wishbone schooner rig.
In the Channel Race Pen Duick III showed the rest of the fleet a clean pair of heels. She led from start to finish and won from Germany's Rubin with 23 minutes to spare. It had been a largely light weather race with the wind freshening to force 5 south-westerly in the later stages. It was a reach all the way round and Tabarly's schooner set everything she could. But the real writing was on the wall, and in an Australian hand. Mercedes and Balandra were third and fourth and Caprice of Huon, in the hands of Gordon Reynolds, her mate in 1965, was seventh. For Britain Noryema V, Firebrand and Prospect were sixth, eighth and twelfth to place second to Australia but 26 points behind.
Honours between the two leading teams were much more even in the Britannia Cup and no one else got a look in. Not after the protests had been heard and a fact of course error brought to light, but before that it appeared that Dick Carter's Rabbit II had won the day for the USA. He was protested by one of the French team for passing the wrong side of the starting gate at the beginning of the second round (those Cowes Week sailing instructions again!) and although the protest was thrown out because the French yacht had not flown a protest flag, Carter realised that he had not sailed the proper course and withdrew his declaration. By a twist of irony, Pen Duick III was disqualified for not signing a declaration! This handed the race to Ted Kaufman's Mercedes III which, with Caprice third and Balandra seventh, gave the Australians another win, this time by one point from Britain whose second, fourth and sixth for Firebrand, Noryema V and Prospect kept the team in sight of the leaders.
Carter got his revenge in the New York Yacht Club Cup. Rabbit II won by a minute and a half from Firebrand but the next three places went to Mercedes III, Caprice of Huon and Balandra and the party in the Regency Club, where the Australian team always resided during the Admiral's Cup, was "a beaut". These placings gained them 17 more points on Britain and the USA and they led by 285 to 241 going into the Fastnet.
It was not a spectacular Fastnet in weather terms, although the Australians could justifiably claim that it was for them. So, too, could Eric Tabarly who won the Fastnet Cup with Pen Duick III, two and a half hours ahead of the next Admiral's Cup boat, Bill Snaith's Figaro IV for the USA.
Plymouth was in for a shock when the Australian trio finished with Mercedes III, Balandra and Caprice of Huon in third, fourth and seventh places to win the race on points (they won all four) and to take the Admiral's Cup for the first time. It did not really matter that "the Poms couldn't get the beer cold enough", they would have drunk the amber nectar from hot galvanised buckets that day. It was not so much that they won the Cup, it was the impressive margin of 107 points by which they had done so. And to think that they were announced as non-starters in this event two years earlier. Just to rub in their superiority, Mercedes III, Balandra and Caprice of Huon finished one, two and three in the individual points table.