12 METERS - Each of three racing days at the 2012 12 Metre North American Championships (Sept. 21-23) started out chilly and overcast but gave way to sunshine and wind ample enough to conduct eight races off Newport, R.I., where the America’s Cup took place for over five decades and from 1958 to 1983 was sailed in the illustrious 12 metre yachts.
Taking overall victory in the event, with a performance in Modern Division that topped all others from the Grand Prix and Traditional Divisions and earned them the Pine Brothers Trophy, was Dennis Williams (Hobe Sound, Fla.) and his Victory ’83 team. Victory ’83 won all of its races over Ralph Isham’s (New York, N.Y.)/Alex Aursberg’s (Newport, R.I.) Courageous and Jack Curtin’s (New York, N.Y.) Intrepid, which took second and third in the Modern Division, respectively. In fact, Victory ’83 could have sat out the last day’s final two races and still won its class, but that would have made for one less day of satisfaction and disrupted the team’s “take no prisoners” enthusiasm for the competition.
“We want to be the best boat in the regatta,” said Williams, the two-time defending North American Champion and 2009 World Champion in this class, before sweeping clean on Sunday to seal his perfect score line. Upon receiving the Pine Brothers Trophy, he elaborated on his team’s performance: “I’m not sure anyone has ever done that (all firsts) in this regatta. The difference was crew work and tactics, which were virtually flawless. It’s not by accident those things happen; we spend a lot of time putting this together.”
Williams also noted that the (Ida Lewis Yacht Club) Race Committee did “a perfect job,” especially on Saturday when the fleet was postponed ashore for two hours while the wind filled in to 12-14 knots on the race course north of the iconic Newport Bridge. “We got three scheduled races in, which I don’t think anyone would have believed had you asked them in the morning.”
The schedule also was adhered to perfectly on Friday when three kick-off races were conducted on Rhode Island Sound, the same arena that hosted the America’s Cup races for 12 editions, starting in 1930 and ending in ’83. Interestingly enough, “Mr. America’s Cup” himself, Dennis Conner (San Diego, Calif.), was present and skippering KZ-7 (Kiwi Magic) in Grand Prix Division with many of his old Cup team members and a balance of crew comprised of U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) cadets. (KZ-7 is currently owned by the USMMA Foundation.) By winning two of the three races, he established his lead over Kip Curren’s (Newport, R.I.) KZ-5 and James Heckman’s/Andy MacGowan’s (Washington, D.C./Middletown, R.I.) USA. It was a lead of which he would never let go, and it left his two adversaries to collect second and third, respectively.
“The boats are all pretty evenly matched; whoever gets ahead is hard to pass,” said Conner. “We started in front, though, and we know how to stay there.”
Conner’s return to Newport could have been bittersweet had he let his loss of the Cup here in 1983-a defeat that ended the longest winning streak in the history of sport–overshadow the memories of his four times of winning it (1974, ’80, ’87, ’88)…or his opportunity to sail again with long-time Cup tactician Tom Whidden (Essex, Conn.), who has done eight America’s Cups, three of them on Conner’s winning team.
“Dennis has done nine Cups,” said Whidden. “He said he didn’t want to stop, because he always wanted to be one ahead of me. I learned a lot from him. He’s a good sailor and that was a good time in my career. I was young and coming up; that’s the kind of break everyone hopes they get.”
The skipper/tactician combination was a match-up paralleled in star power only by Ted Turner’s (Atlanta, Ga.) with Gary Jobson (Annapolis, Md.) here in Traditional Division. Turner, who won the 1977 America’s Cup on Courageous with Jobson, chose to skipper the 12 metre he once owned, American Eagle, which sailed under its charity-associated name American Eagle/Hope for the Warriors. Turner’s team conceded to Alain Hanover’s (Weston, Mass.) Columbia in all but one race over the first two days and turned in two bullets for the last day, but Columbia still won the North American title with only two points to spare.
“In our division there were only two boats,” said Hanover, “so we were doing everything in the book to mess each other up. In half the races the lead changed at least a dozen times; it was a fantastic series, the closest of my life.” Hanover recounted one race that thrilled everyone, when American Eagle edged out Columbia by just a hair at the finish line. Turner also referenced the race at the Awards Ceremony. “This weekend was wonderful; it was some of the closest racing ever. Congratulations to Columbia, who won the series, but, by God, we’ll get ‘em next year.”
Tom Whidden praised the owners for what they have done with the 12 Metres. “It’s cool to keep the class going,” he said, “and I think to have people passionate about it is a great thing. I would hate to see these boats go away.”
Courageous crew member John Alexander (Charlotte, N.C.) gave another perspective: “As a racer, you can be on boats that are faster or more high tech, but given the history of these boats and the history of the Cup, there is no higher honor or privilege than to do this. I was here in ’77 when Courageous (with Ted Turner skippering) won the Cup; I was 30 years old, thinking I was too old to ever get to sail on one of these, and here I am now racing on a Cup winner.”
In addition to the Pine Brothers Trophy, Herb Marshall, Vice President of the 12 Metre Americas Fleet, presented the Gubelmann Trophy for the winner in each division at the North American Championships and the Ted Hood Trophy for the highest points overall for specific regattas during the season (Columbia, Victory ’83 and USA each won for their divisions). Ted Turner presented the Ted Turner Trophy for noteworthy contribution on or off the water to David Ray of Newport. Ray owns the Clarke Cooke House and Bannister’s Wharf, where the 12 Metres berthed this week, just as they did during the past America’s Cups, and has been supporting the Cup and its sailors here for several decades.