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America's Cup - 1970- Revelations from the Race Committee Chairman

by Devereux Barker III on 28 May 2013
Cover: Gretel II Disqualified by Dev Barker, available from Amazon.com . ..

The 1970 America's Cup Match between the revamped Defender, Intrepid, and the Australian Challenger, Gretel II, attracted much media attention for the drama that occurred on the water and was replayed in Protest Room.

Often overlooked is the view that while Intrepid continued a long succession of successful Defences, Gretel II failed to win a Cup - despite having the faster boat. This Match should have been the first victory by a Challenger. Instead, after a grueling Defence selection series, Intrepid successfully prevailed through a combination of sound tactics and minimal errors.

(Interestingly the same scenario was set to repeat in 1983, but Australia II was able to come back from being down 3-1 against the slower Liberty, and complete the task that should have been achieved 13 years earlier.)

The startline incident in the re-run of Race 2 of the 1970 America's Cup, is probably one of the most, if not the most enduring racing rules controversies in America's Cup history. Certainly the nuances of the incident are still studied and evaluated by contemporary rules students.

The relatively young Chairman of the New York Yacht Club's Race Committee, Dev Barker (31) was in the firing line from the Australian afterguard, their rules advisers, and Syndicate Head, the newspaper magnate, Sir Frank Packer.

The Australians got off to a poor start to the series, breaking their spinnaker pole and losing a bowman overboard.

Then in Race 2 the New York Yacht Club's Race Committee, called off the race after it was into its fourth leg. Intrepid was ahead at Mark 3, the Australians and Sir Frank Packer's media, had it that the Australians had caught Intrepid and were in fact in front at the time the NYYC's Race Committee called the race off.

In this excerpt from a new book, by Dev Barker, then Chairman of the New York Yacht Club's Race Committee, outlines the first attempt to run Race 2 of the 1970 America's Cup - called off after the start because of the fog, after Coast Guard intervention.


He writes:

The famous Race 2 that involved a collision at the starting line followed by a controversial protest decision actually was the second Race 2. An earlier sailing of Race 2 became the very first race in the 120-year history of the America’s Cup to be abandoned in progress by the race committee. It took place on Friday, September 18, 1970, has become known as the 'fog race,' and has acquired a certain notoriety of its own.

The New York YC race committee’s usual rule-of-thumb for starting races on foggy days: We needed to be able to clearly see the buoy end of the starting line, set to be approximately 400 yards in length from the committee boat, during the entire 20-minute starting sequence.

The race got underway in perhaps a half-mile of visibility at 12:30. In a nine-knot breeze, Gretel ll led at the start and by almost two minutes at the weather mark. But Intrepid sailed lower and faster with a more effective spinnaker on the reaches and had gained a 46 second lead at the third mark. She was still in the lead on the fourth leg when thicker fog descended.

In match racing there is not much point to the race if you are unable to see your opponent. Also, it is dangerous with a large, disorganized spectator fleet crowding the course from all sides. With visibility down to 200 yards or less, the Coast Guard patrol commander, calling from the 380’ Coast Guard Cutter Chase, implored us to stop the race. After as much delay as we could possibly engineer, we reluctantly did so in the interests of safety. And, as if to emphasize that it was the correct decision, a half-hour later the wind had quit entirely.

To clarify, there had been any number of Cup races that didn’t finish because the six-hour time limit expired, but this was the very first time in Cup history that a race in progress had been abandoned which by definition in the racing rules is 'one which the race committee declares void at any time after the starting signal and which can be resailed at its discretion.'

Over the years, books and magazine articles have quoted the Australians as being critical of our decision, because, first, they thought they might have been ahead at the time; and, secondly, the fog wasn’t all that thick. Our action has been cited as an example of the NYYC race committee making a decision to benefit its own boat. I provide the detail that follows in order to balance the record.

Why did I not set the record straight sooner? Primary reason: At the time, I was on the editorial staff of a magazine and it just did not seem appropriate to me or to my employer to do so. Also, as former chairman Bill Fanning liked to quote what the poet James Whitcomb Riley once replied when asked how he was going to handle a critic, 'I’ll hit him with a big chunk of silence.'

Keep in mind that the America’s Cup course had six legs-a triangle followed by windward and leeward legs and then a final beat to the finish for a total distance of 24.3 nautical miles. So the committee boat had to relocate after the start in order to finish the race at the weather mark. Here is the procedure we had followed all summer: By the time the boats were approaching the end of the triangle, we had our anchor up and had positioned ourselves to be able to record the margin at the third mark. We then followed the race up the fourth leg, staying closely astern and roughly halfway between the two boats.

As the visibility deteriorated, we were able to follow the boats on the committee boat Incredible’s radar. We were keeping track and we knew the race was close but that Intrepid was indeed ahead. We had one of our most experienced committee members, Charlie Morgan, aboard Chase and we knew the ship had slowed way down and essentially given up trying to keep the race course clear. We were in touch with the defender and challenger tenders (which had radar) and asked the tenders to report if and when they lost visual contact with each one’s sailing vessel. A few minutes later, the tenders did so, almost simultaneously.

The previous winter I had given some thought to the possibility of having to abandon a race, even though it had never happened before. We discussed it at meetings, but when the Sailing Instructions were printed they were silent on the subject. After an incident in the Challenger Trials in August when France became lost in fog and retired from the race, we prepared the following Notice which was issued the day before the Match began at the Captain’s Meeting:

'The Sailing Instructions in no way inhibit the power of the Race Committee to abandon a race under Rule 5.1(b), but in accordance with the Conditions, a course will not be shortened. Notice of abandonment will be given to your tenders over VHF channel 6....'

At that moment, we felt blessed to have the procedure spelled out and available.

Finally, an incredibly detailed recollection 42 years after the fact from Intrepid tactician Steve Van Dyck: 'Gretel II was abeam to leeward 5.5 boat lengths (stadimeter reading) on the fourth leg when the race was abandoned. We had really started to move on them as we had a little more pressure filling in with the fog. She was right on the edge of being totally beyond our visibility. Upon abandonment I promptly said to Bill Ficker ‘it is a damn good thing we are ahead.’ To which he said ‘boy are you right!’ We were employing a tight cover at the time and would not have let her go off in the fog to 'strike gold.' I was very alarmed at racing in the fog with the extreme danger of the spectator fleet milling around out of control and not being able to avoid a damaging collision.'

That a race could be abandoned at the discretion of the Race Committee became one of the significant legacies of the Race 2 controversies to survive. Nearly the exact same language that was so useful that day in 1970 entered the America’s Cup Conditions for the 1974 match.

Sail-World: The rerun of Race 2 became significant in America's Cup and Racing Rules history for the incident which occurred at the start as Intrepid passed between the Challenger Gretel II and the stern of the Committee Boat.

The 1970 America's Cup was riddled with protests, starting with two on the first race, prompting Australian syndicate head, Sir Franck Packer to quip that 'Protesting to the New York Yacht Club is like complaining to your mother-in-law about your wife'.

The book entitled: 'Gretel II Disqualified' takes the reader inside the Race Committee Room of the New York Yacht Club. It is significant, as it is very rare, if not unique for the Chairman of the Race Committee break with the tradition of confidentiality of the Protest Room.

At the time he chaired the Race Committee of the New York Yacht Club in 1970, Dev Barker was only 31 years old. Of equal significance is the fact that while Gretel II was defeated by Intrepid, the Australian Challenger was reckoned by many to be the faster boat.

The book, published in April 2013, can be purchased on Amazon.com by http://tinyurl.com/qzbu6od!clicking_here



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