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America’s Cup Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, April 30, 2009
by John Rousmaniere
(May 6, 2009) In the talk I gave at the recent America’s Cup Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on April 30, 2009, I encouraged the Cup’s powers to (1) honor the thousands of fans who love the Cup and its history, and (2) lighten up.
The second job was made easier when my friends Tom Ehman of Oracle and Brad Butterworth of Alinghi took seats at opposite sides of the podium. Below is a slightly revised version of the talk, which was held on April 30th in the model room of New York Yacht Club in Manhattan.
Welcome to the most glorious indoors space in New York, the most famous place in yachting, and the heart and soul of the America’s Cup and its fans. We are in the model room of the New York Yacht Club, and we’re going to have a little fun.
This room is the centerpiece of the clubhouse, which was built in 1901 by J. Pierpont Morgan and designed by an architect, Whitney Warren, who understood that sailors at heart are romantics. The appropriate reaction to this room—with its hundreds of models and its grinning sea monsters and its great drapes of seaweed—should be delight and laughter, not shock and awe. As one visitor observed, “Except for the absence of motion, one might fancy oneself at sea.”
The club needed a big room because it had to display the yacht models that it had been collecting since its founding in 1844, at first to help the race committee calculate ratings and then as works of art. Among the gems of the collection are the 64 full-rigged America’s Cup models that all but encircle us tonight. One of the very best of these miniature yachts is Ranger, the 1937 Cup defender. Ranger herself was built in less than six months, but Joseph Appleton took two years to craft her model, with a laid deck, hatch covers that slide, a steering wheel that spins, and blocks whose sheaves turn.
Now, you may be wondering what you have to do to get a model of your yacht displayed here. Obviously, it requires something special. Just what that is did not become clear until I had a chat with a member of the model committee about two very special men who are with us tonight, and who are associated with boats whose models might someday be displayed here. One of those men, Tom, looks like a lawyer, dresses like one, talks like one, and although he says he’s not a lawyer, he hangs out with lawyers, too. Every time Tom goes up to Albany to the Court of Appeals, he wins his case. There have been two America’s Cup cases up there in 19 years—the first concerning the 1988 catamaran defense, and the second, just recently, concerning Tom’s team—and Tom’s been on the winning side both times. Nobody can match that record.
I asked the N.Y.Y.C. Model Committee guy if Tom the Unlawyer can put a model of his boat here.
“Hold on a minute,” said the committeeman. “Has this boat raced for the America’s Cup? Every boat here has raced for the Cup.”
I told him they hadn’t got quite that far. “Tom’s still litigating. They’ll get around to sailboat racing, eventually.”
I then mentioned some other people who’d like to see their boat represented in the model room. Brad and the Grammarians are pretty special, too. These are the fellows who devoted an entire year to compiling a dictionary for only one word. That word is “Having.”
Once again the committeeman said it wasn’t enough. “That’s an important word, sure enough. But to get a boat into the model room, you must do a lot more than write a 200-page, one-word dictionary. Even Grammarians have to go sailboat racing.”
This makes you respect all the people who have got their boats into the model room by doing nothing more special than sailing a race.
But there’s more to this room than models. It used to be widely believed that if the New York Yacht Club lost the America’s Cup, the head of the losing skipper would be displayed here. Of course, that’s a myth. There is a head, but it’s not the losing skipper’s. Dennis Conner is still very much around. The head belongs to the commodore at the time the Cup was lost. It’s usually displayed here, but we can’t see it today because it’s out for cleaning.
Despite the job’s dangers, to be a commodore is a sublime honor. One commodore, John Cox Stevens, founded the America’s Cup when his yacht (which he patriotically named America) won a race in England in 1851. Three commodores commanded a total of seven Cup winners. Several others crewed in winning boats, including today’s commodore, David Elwell, who was a grinder on Intrepid in 1967. Obviously, it’s wise to be respectful of a commodore. When Dennis Conner asked Ted Turner how he should address all the blue blazers he met, Ted told him, “Every older man you meet, call him ‘Commodore.’” That’s sound advice. Even if you’re wrong, you’ll make a friend for life.
I’m kidding, of course. Brad’s not a Grammarian—he’s a Tactician who happens to hang out with Grammarians. Maybe Tom’s a lawyer. As for the severed head, although it hasn’t happened the way I’ve described, people have been losing their heads (and their good judgment and common sense and fortunes) over the America’s Cup for 158 years, and there’s no reason to expect that they’ll stop doing it tomorrow.
Getting back to this building, here you will find a great many mementoes of the America’s Cup. For instance, there are some astonishingly beautiful works of art by James E. Buttersworth, the only artist-member of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, and other painters. Anybody who believes that sailing is dull and the America’s Cup was never a spectator sport until television came along should make a study of their work. Three dozen America-related artifacts are here. Several were freely donated to the club by non-members who believed they belonged in the home of the America’s Cup. One of these is the gilded eagle that was once secured to America’s counter and that was given to the club by the Royal Yacht Squadron—the same people who lost the Cup.
Another America-related artifact that was given freely to the club by a non-member is a painting known as “the America Primitive” because it represents the yacht in folk-art style. It shows the celebrating sailors, women as well as men, unrealistically large so the focus naturally falls on them and not the schooner herself. The artist did not logically represent the boat. Rather, he or she emotionally revealed the race as a popular patriotic sporting event. This painting pays tribute to the fans of America and the America’s Cup by telling us that the victory may have been accomplished by a few, but it belongs to us all.
The fans are too often left out of the America’s Cup story. Writers like me say too much about skippers, sail trimmers, and technicians. We should take the point of view of the anonymous artist who created the America Primitive and put the spotlight on those fans who, like the people for whom Whitney Warren designed the model room, are romantics about boats and the sea, and also about their nation’s achievements.
The fact is that nobody owns the America's Cup—nobody, that is, except all those who hold in their hearts its spirit and promise of challenge and adventure and the ideals of sportsmanship. A wise man once wrote, “The America's Cup is a synonym of things brave and big and famous.” I venture to guess that most people in this great room tonight would agree.
Photos by Daniel Forster
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