America's Cup: 'The Last Post' reviews new books by Spithill/Mundle and Sefton/Keating;
SAN FRANCISCO – It should come as no surprise that among the first rush of literary effort following AC35 should find among its authors members of SINS (the Society of International Scribes) including two of its founder members. Rob Mundle is credited with writing Jimmy Spithill’s autobiography, “Chasing the Cup,” while Alan Sefton and Larry Keating have penned ”Exposed,” a look at the “Dark Side of the America’s Cup”.
Having been told, following corrective surgery on a leg, that he "is unlikely ever to be any good at sports,” the early struggles of Spithill were greater than those of others his age, and his determination won through. He played every sport, including rugby, soccer and boxing, and was racing a much repaired Manly Junior dinghy with his sister and scoring his first win on the water.
It was his grit and determination that drove him to achieve a berth on the Sydney–Hobart race on an extremely well-known boat with an equally esteemed owner, Syd Fischer and RAGAMUFFIN. It opened the door to his long-declared aim – to race in the America’s Cup (and some way in the future to win it). His “hopeless” year with Syd’s old boat in Auckland for the 2000 Cup was his first step on the ladder and from there he never looked back.
His progress from there, including his legal battle over his contract with Syd, is thoroughly documented, until 2017. Here, however, details of the last Cup, particularly the match (in a total of two pages), are in short supply. He does not believe that at aged 28 he is finished and will doubtless return to the America’s Cup in 2021, but with whom, remains unknown.
What ceases to remain unknown, thanks to Alan Sefton and Larry Keating, are many of the sources of discontent in the early matches for the Cup and the reliance on the Deed of Gift drafted in 1852 and finalized in 1857, amended in 1882 and 1887, around which many challenges have been leveled. They examine, at some length and detail, the matter of the legitimacy of the winged-keel of Australia II in 1983. Recent activity to discredit Ben Lexcen’s right to claim full design rights have brought this to a head, and the authors uphold the Australians, notable among them Warren Jones, together with the reasons why.
The J-class challenges of Sir Thomas Sopwith receive attention with details about how Harold "Mike" Vanderbilt, aided by Sherman Hoyt, defeated the faster ENDEAVOUR by better tactics with RAINBOW and perhaps the support of the Race Committee over the flying of a protest flag – the where and when requirement differing in the competitors’ countries’ rules.
Much is concentrated following AUSTRALIA II’s victory in Newport, RI., to end a 132-year tenure of the Cup by the New York Yacht Club, and how the Kiwis became involved. Few knew that Marcel Faschler, a Belgian born, businessman living in Sydney, was the starting point, or why. But it kick-started Cup activity in New Zealand with help from banker Michael Fay, first ‘fingered’ by Ron Holland. From this sprang fibreglass 12-Metres (cue controversy) and, in Australia, “Glassgate”.
Fay was personally responsible for the Deed of Gift Challenge in 1987 with a 90-foot monohull that Dennis Conner and the San Diego Yacht Club answered with a 60-foot wing-sailed catamaran (now you know where these started!), following a series of Court cases and finally decided by Justice Carmen B Ciparick. Today Fay’s monohull still stands on the quay in Auckland’s harbor, while no one cares about Conner’s cats.
The story carries on through AC 35 in Bermuda with remarks on the manner in which the event had been downgraded, notably in the issue of nationality of the sailors – it wasn’t for nothing that the American team was universally referred to as Oracle Team AUS, because five out of six of her crew were Australian – and cheers to the latest Protocol for rectifying this issue.
One is never bored with “Exposed” and one cannot help but admire the amount of research that was required to produce it.
Both books are published by Adlard Coles for Bloomsbury, and also available on Amazon.
["The Last Post" is a regular Sailing Illustrated contributor, a consummate and veteran journalist of considerable repute – so much so that he, like The Fifth Beatle, has chosen to file under this clever nom de plume in the best traditions of American journalism dating back at least as far as that revolutionary-era writer Silence Dogood, a.k.a. Benjamin Franklin. This is his third submission since SI began in May 2017. –TFE]