Reliving America’s Cup days in Newport
Published on March 21st, 2019
The America’s Cup was held in Newport, RI 12 times from 1930 to 1983, with the 12 Metre as the selected class for nine of those times, from 1958 to 1983. When the 12 Metre World Championship comes to Newport July 8-13, it will be a reunion of boats and men.
For the 2019 12 Metre Worlds, teams from around the world again will sail a series of fleet races, held over five racing days, to determine winners in four Divisions: Grand Prix, Modern, Traditional, and Vintage.
And they will sail somewhat the same America’s Cup courses – plotted beyond the mouth of Narragansett Bay and off Brenton Reef in the Atlantic Ocean – that long ago brought notoriety to scenic Newport and its surrounding waters.
With the Cup’s historical ties to Newport, it’s no surprise that many of the sailors planning to compete at the Worlds are veterans of 12 Metre America’s Cup campaigns.
Lexi Gahagan (Wilmington, Del.) started his America’s Cup career in 1980 when he successfully defended the Cup as bow man on Dennis Conner’s’ Freedom (US-30). At the 12 Metre Worlds he will sail in the Afterguard of New Zealand (KZ-3), entered in the four-boat Grand Prix Division and owned and driven by Gunther Buerman (Highland Beach, Fla./Newport, R.I.).
“In 1980, it was like we were all on college football teams,” said Gahagan, who would go on to sail for Cup campaigns in 1987, 1992 and 2000. “No one got paid, but we were working hard while also having a really good time. By ’87 it had ramped up; it was more like going to work as professional athletes; people were hired and fired for their performances.”
Gahagan said no one on KZ-3 is paid, although all are veteran sailors, including locals Duncan Skinner and Chris Fischer, who have America’s Cup credentials as well.
“The team has sailed together now for five years and feels good about knowing the boat,” he said, adding that local knowledge, which Afterguard member Brad Read and other area sailors contribute, also is a plus. “We haven’t had many other Grand Prix 12 Metres to sail against, and it’s time to mix it up with some of the good competition coming in.”
Grand Prix teams coming to America to compete at the Worlds are Patrizio Bertelli’s Italian entrant Kookaburra II (KA-12), Jesper Bank’s Danish entrant Legacy (KZ-5), and Johan Blach Petersen’s Danish entry Kiwi Magic (KZ-7).
“The others won’t know the boats as well, perhaps, but they’ll pick it up in a hurry,” said Gahagan, referencing the fact that some of the teams have only recently formulated, specifically for competing at the 2019 Worlds and the Pre-Worlds, also to be held in Newport (July 6-7).
As for 1983, when the world watched as John Bertrand’s Australia II (KA-5) beat Dennis Conner’s’ Liberty (US-40) and afterward revealed its secret weapon winged-keel to thousands of race fans on the Newport waterfront, Gahagan said he was watching, too, from a TV in Vermont.
“I wasn’t there for that one, but I’ve been all over the world sailing, and having all the boats on Thames Street the way it was, how close we all were…it can’t be replicated,” said Gahagan. “Newport to me is a special place…it’s why I still sail with Gunther and his team; it’s where the Cup should be if America can win it back next time.”
Mike Toppa (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Newport, R.I.) will sail on the newly confirmed Modern Division entry Enterprise (US-27), chartered from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) Sailing Foundation by Clay and Nancy Deutsch (Newport, R.I.). Toppa sailed on the same boat in 1980 when she served as a Trial Horse for Dennis Conner’s successful Freedom campaign.
Enterprise was discovered in France, in disrepair, a few years back, and brought back to racing form by two different owners before she was donated to the Foundation.
“Her interior was taken out by the second owner, who was getting it ready for the Worlds,” said Toppa, who also sailed on and designed sails for Defender (US-33) in 1983 and Eagle (US-60) in 1986. “A lot of design work has been done, and everything has been changed, including the deck hydraulics, the mast, the keel, the trim tab, and sail plan.”
The best things about the old Newport Cup days for Toppa was learning as much as he did, sailing with the best sailors at the time, and soaking it all up. “I mean, I was sailing for the America’s Cup in my hometown; it was the biggest sailing regatta in the world!”
The Modern Division is yielding the deepest fleet, with seven entries that include three successful Cup defenders: Freedom (US-30) (1980), skippered by owner Charles Robertson (Guilford, Conn.); Intrepid (US-22) (1967 & 1970), skippered by Jack Curtin (Toronto, Canada/New York, N.Y.); and Courageous (US-26) (1974 & 1977), skippered by Arthur Santry (Arlington, Va./Newport, R.I.), another America’s Cup 12 Metre veteran.
As well, it includes Jack Lefort’s (Winter Park, Fla./Jamestown, R.I.) Challenge XII (KA-10), which two years ago was returned to racing trim specifically for the Worlds; Dennis Williams’ (Hobe Sound, Fla./Newport, R.I.) Victory ’83 (K-22), which was the 2009 12 Metre World Champion (Modern Division); and Harry Graves’ (Grand Isle, Vt.) Lionheart (K-18).
The 12 Metre World Championship is hosted by Ida Lewis Yacht Club, the International Twelve Metre Association (ITMA) America’s Fleet and the 12 Metre Yacht Club.
Competing 12 Metres (to date):
Grand Prix Division
KZ-7 Kiwi Magic, Johan Blach Petersen, Arhus, Denmark
KA-12 Kookaburra II, Patrizio Bertelli, Porto Santo Stefano, Italy
KZ-5 Legacy (nee Laura), Jesper Bank, Denmark
KZ-3 New Zealand, Gunther Buerman, Highland Beach, Fla./Newport, R.I.
KA-10 Challenge XII, Jack LeFort, Jamestown, R.I.
US-26 Courageous, Ralph Isham/Steve Glascock/Alexander Auersperg/Ward Marsh/Arthur Santry, Newport, R.I.
US-27 Enterprise, Clay & Nancy Deutsch, Newport, RI
US-30 Freedom, Charles Robertson, Guilford, Conn.
US-22 Intrepid, Jack Curtin, Toronto, Ontario/New York, N.Y.
K-18 Lionheart, Harry Graves, Grand Isle, Vermont
K-22 Victory ’83, Dennis Williams, Hobe Sound, Fla./Newport, R.I.
US-21 American Eagle, Bob Morton/Cindy DeLotto, Newport, R.I./Edgartown, Mass.
US-16 Columbia, Kevin Hegarty, Boston, Mass.
US-18 Easterner, Scott Bernard, Annapolis, Md.
US-19 Nefertiti, Sears Wullschleger, Sarasota, Fla.
US-17 Weatherly, Jay Schachne, E. Greenwich, R.I.
K-17 Blue Marlin, Henrik Andersin, Kotka, Finland
US-12 Nyala, Patrizio Bertelli, Porto Santo Stefano, Italy
US-6 Onawa, Earl McMillen, Newport, R.I.
N-11 Vema III, Vema Syndicate, Oslo, Norway
12 Metre Spirit
US-42 America II, New York Harbor Sailing Foundation, New York, NY
US-46 America II, New York Harbor Sailing Foundation, New York, NY
Other potential competitors: US-23 Heritage, US-24 Valiant
During the Worlds and the Pre-Worlds, most of the fleet will be berthed at Fort Adams where visitors will be able to view the yachts before and after racing. A large on-water spectator fleet is expected, and land-based spectators can catch the fleet sailing to and from the race course at vantage points along the shores closest to Narragansett Bay’s East Passage, including Fort Adams, Beavertail Light and Castle Hill.
Source: 12 Metre Worlds