Memories of a Corinthian Summer

Published on March 4th, 2015

by Dick Enersen
In late September 2014, we held a reunion lunch of the still upright members of the crew of Constellation, the 12 Metre yacht that defended the America’s Cup for the New York Yacht Club in 1964. The crew – Steve Van Dyck, Putter Brown, Buddy Bombard, and I – were joined by our wives and girlfriends as well as two supporters from long ago, Davey MacFarlane (who took care of Nereus, our prewar trial horse) and Jimmy Gubelmann, also a regular crew member aboard Nereus, where all of the alternate Constellation crew trained. The venue was a private dining room at Castle Hill Inn, which had served as our residence in the summer of ’64.

Most of us had seen the others over the years, including at a 40th reunion dinner at Harbour Court, so there wasn’t much catching up to do. The conversation at the table centered around what a wonderful time we had had in that house, in that town, and on that water—half a century ago.

One of us recalled our crew dinners in the spectacular glasswalled dining that still juts out in the direction of Beavertail State Park. Blazers and ties every night and, once a week— and with specific permission from the wife of our skipper—we could bring a date. Those were some of the best sunsets, ever.

That evening, we joined other veterans from the campaigns of ’64 and ’74 for cocktails and dinner at Harbour Court. Counting plus-ones, there were about 50 people and, again, most of the chatter had to do with the good old days. Interestingly, there was almost no discussion about the current state of the America’s Cup. Most of us had written it off as a failing commercial endeavor, having little or nothing to do with the event we had experienced.

Like most of the crew from that era, I had been a college student at the time and had a good deal of sailing experience and size as well as a free summer vacation. The letter I got in December 1963 from our skipper, Eric Ridder, welcoming me to the crew, asked for my clothing dimensions and saying that everything would be provided. (It went on to add that all I would need to bring would be “socks, underwear, and a tuxedo.”)

That Selix tuxedo got a real workout from May until well into September, which speaks to a realization I had later about the nature of the America’s Cup. For those who paid for the campaigns, in after-tax dollars, the competition on the water was really an excuse for more, and better, parties.

But this is not to say that the sailing wasn’t important. It was vitally important to us, as competitors, and to a rather small group of people who went to sea on private yachts with “syndicate flags” in their rigging to cheer on their champions. Even going to watch the racing was an endeavor. It wasn’t a harbor cruise: the race course was 15 nautical miles out in the Block Island Sound.

In the evenings, after long days of sailing and caring for the boats, we went to their parties, gave them the “inside scoop,” and danced with their daughters. We were the show, the circus come to town. And we couldn’t have been happier.

The grandest party of the summer—and, indeed, of my entire life—was the Sovereign party, “at home” at The Breakers. Tony and Val Boyden, patrons of the British challenger, invited about 500 people to gather at “2200” for dinner and dancing (and whatever) until breakfast, which was served at “0400.” The only disappointment was that the Beatles, who had played in Jamestown the previous night, failed to appear. Needless to say, there was no racing scheduled for the next day.

Today, grinders are being paid like first-year lawyers. but, back then, money never changed hands. On reflection, if they had asked us, we would have paid to be included. Not only were we living like princes (never mind the mildew in the basement room that I shared with Putter), but we were sailing the best boats ever—with, and against, the best sailors on the planet. Those experiences, those associations, and those friendships made that summer and have shaped and enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined. I will be thankful for as long as I live.

Source: Quest Magazine

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