1959: USA does not compete

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

The closeness of the Cup's outcome, 70-68, was not enough to encourage the American's to return two years later. They could so easily have won, too. The two extra points that Figaro could have gained by starting and finishing in the Channel Race would have levelled the scores and no lesser person than the then unknighted Frances Chichester thought Figaro could have done better in the Fastnet. He should have known: he was her navigator. In his own book, The Lonely Sea and the Sky, he writes: "We were late over the starting line, and when, on leaving the Needles, I asked for the starboard tack to take us out into the channel, Bill [Snaith] said, 'Can't we sail to the other tack [into Poole Bay] which looks less rough?' The navigating instinct is a very tenuous affair and I could not give a good reason why the port tack should not have been equally good. So we took it, but as it turned out it cost us many hours of racing time."

At right: Jocasta. Click to enlarge.1959

Chichester goes on to criticise the way the boat was set up for reefing and points out that this manoeuvre was often delayed because of the difficulty of reefing and of shaking the reefs out. He also adds that the yacht was "stuffed with experts", each of them wishing to demonstrate their own particular skills and all of them unwittingly slowing the boat.

While the Americans eschewed the Cup two years later, the Dutch and French were keen to compete. Boats from both countries had been familiar visitors to Cowes in the past. Much had been done by British sailors since the previous Cup races with three boats taking part in the 1958 Bermuda Race and Uomie, in the hands of Geoffrey Pattinson, doing the Sydney-Hobart, the first British boat to do so since John Illingworth started that race and won the first one in 1945.

At home the RORC decided that greater importance should be made of the Special Regulations for the races and that there would be inspection of some yachts in all races that season. Prior to this the club had felt that all that was necessary was to state that it was "contrary to the spirit of ocean racing to save weight by sailing without equipment normally carried while cruising". The state of play was hotting up and the RORC realised that it was more important than ever that yachts should be properly prepared to deal with bad weather and fitted out with all the necessary safety devices as they were more likely to ride out the storms at sea than run for shelter. The list of Special Regulations was impressive, properly impressive too. The RORC had obviously done its homework and considered every eventuality and all the possible times of gear available at the time. For the first time there is mention of electronic navigational aids and the use of echo sounders was permitted for the 1959 season. Lead swinging was now a thing of the past but the Club was conservative in its attitude to electronic instruments- it took until the 1983 season for a complete acceptance in all races.

The choice of the defending team looked for all the world like an "establishment" job, but the choice was narrow and it was a fairly simple decision to call on John Illingworth and Peter Green with Myth of Malham again. Selwyn Slater was there once more but with his new yacht, Ramrod, and the team was completed with the club yacht Griffin II which as Yeoman III had won the Fastnet Race in 1951. Owen Aisher and the subsequent owners of Yeoman III, Sir Giles Guthrie and Charles Gardner, presented her to the RORC as the Club boat to replace the ageing gaff cutter Griffin. For the year she was skippered by major Gerald Potter and a crew handpicked by the Club.

Of the Dutch team only Zwerver was new but the other two, Olivier van Noort and Zeevalk, were well-known for their regularly good performances. The French on the other had were very much an unknown quantity with the yawl Eloise II, Marie-Christine II and the international 9-Metre cruiser/racer St. Francois.

Britain began her defence of the Cup in style. Ramrod won the race outright and Griffin II won class II to give the team a huge lead as Myth of Malham was third in class II. They were 18 points clear of Holland but that lead was to be whittled away in the two inshore races. Zwerver won the Britannia Cup, for a race around the Isle of Wight that some of the competitors did not finish until breakfast time the next day - the tidal gate at St. Catherine's kept the smaller boat out of the running and their crews out of the Cowes pubs that night.

The New York YC Cup was a triumph for the French boat St. Francois, at least among the nine Admiral's Cuppers, and Britain's lead was reduced to three points on the eve of the Fastnet. That race was another of those Solent light weather ones in which the tide played a large part. Peter Snowden, Secretary of the Cowes Combined Clubs, remembered it with some fondness. He was crewing aboard Tommy Clarke's Misty Dream which was one of the smallest in the race and on which he and his fellow crew were able to observe what was happening to the others after they had left Lymington Spit for Hampstead Ledge. The wind had died and the tide was carrying the boats ahead of them westwards on the ebb. Misty Dream, under spinnaker like the rest, hardened up on the mainland shore to get the slacker water and was well ahead when she rounded Hampstead Ledge just in time to catch the freshening south westerly that was filling in. Peter Snowden talks of the celebrations of the win this gave them with a great deal of happiness.

The Fastnet was a contrast to the previous one in that there were calms in the early stages with boats kedging to avoid going backwards. The fleet started in an easterly breeze with spinnakers set; a record 59 yachts in all, including the twice previous winner, Dick Nye's Carina. It took the leaders 40 hours to get to the Lizard after anchoring against each flood tide and 254 hours later there were still boats going past the westerlymost point of Cornwall. Zwerver and Olivier van Noort were well up at the Rock with Griffin II not far astern. By then the wind had increased but there was the additional hazard of bad visibility to hamper the boat in the final stages.

All of the French team pulled out with damage to gear but the Dutch continued to do well until the very last few miles. Griffin II was second in class II to the overall winner, Sven Hansen's Anitra from Sweden. Olivier van Noort beat Ramrod by two minutes and Zwerver was fourth but the cup remained in Britain when the ageing Myth of Malham took fifth place among the cup yachts, nine hours ahead of Zevalk. The final scores were Britain 135 and Holland 123 points.


Great Britain Myth of Malham
(Capt. J. H. Illingworth - Peter Green)
Griffin II
(Maj. G. Potter)
(S. B. Slater - R. McLoughlin)
135 Pts.
Holland Zwerver
(O.J. van der Norm)
(C. Bruynzeel)
Olivier van Noort
(A. W. Goudriaan)
123 Pts.
France Eloise II
(F. Herve)
Marie-Christine II
(J. C. Menu)
St. Francois
(G. Craipeau)
37 Pts.


Channel Race - Ramrod
Britannia Cup - Zwerver
N.Y.Y.C. Challenge - St. Francois
Fastnet - Griffin II



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