Sat, 27 Feb 2010 23:42:21Jim Donaldson: America’s Cup in Newport is always half full
08:51 PM EST on Saturday, February 27, 2010
There are some folks whose fondest memories of those glorious, halcyon days when the races for the America’s Cup were held on the blue-green, white-capped waters off Newport, are of the victorious American 12-meter — and, until that disastrous day in 1983 when the Aussies made off with our sterling-silver ewer, the Americans always were victorious — sailing past Castle Hill as resounding cheers reverberated off the rocks, and the boat horns of the spectator fleet, bobbing happily all the way from the tip of Beavertail to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, blasted in congratulation and celebration.
My fondest memory, however, is of the arm of Ted Turner, champagne bottle in hand, the only visible part of his anatomy, reaching up from beneath the press table in the old armory on Thames Street.
That was a few, mirthful moments before the re-emergence of the rest of the playboy yachtsman’s saltwater and French bubbly soaked body, his sunburned, windburned face sporting a silly but triumphant smile as wide as the Atlantic after skippering Courageous past Alan Bond’s Australia in 1977.
While the bluebloods in blue blazers at the New York Yacht Club, sipping cocktails on their green, sloping lawn overlooking Newport’s colonial-era harbor, like to remember the contests for the Cup as great boat races, the rest of us –– those of us who occupied stools at the bars that are as ubiquitous as sea gulls in the City by the Sea –– recall Cup summers as one long, wonderful party.
Although, if you recall too much of those times, then you didn’t have a good enough time.
That’s why not just Newporters, but all Rhode Islanders, ought to do everything possible to bring back the good times; why we should make every effort to bring the America’s Cup races back to where they belong — in Newport.
San Francisco, the current favorite to host the next competition for the America’s Cup, is my favorite city in America. And I can’t say a single bad thing about the other prime contender, San Diego. Well, okay, one — the traffic on I-5 can be ridiculous.
But, unless the races are held on Lake Pontchartrain, beside the city of New Orleans, there is no better place than Newport where yachts roll on the waves while the good times roll on shore.
It’s been a while since I owned a pair of Topsiders, and even longer since I went out on the town wearing a pair of Breton red slacks. But I’m going to have buy some if, indeed, the Cup races come back home to Newport.
At least I won’t have to spend any money on socks.
That was the uniform of the day, as the Navy boys used to say, back in the days when Uncle Sam had more boats in Newport than the yachtsmen, lobstermen and commercial fishermen combined: Polo shirt — with blazer if you were going to the Candy Store — Breton reds, Topsiders, no socks.
It was the uniform of the night, too.
At least those nights when, their 12-meters safely tied up beside the wharves, the sailors cut loose. Which was just about every night.
Having spent the day plying the waters of Rhode Island Sound, the sailors — and even more pseudo-sailors; because, since few people ever actually saw the boats in action, who would know if you weren’t a crewman for Turner, or Dennis Conner, or the handsome, young Russell Long — would then troll the watering holes of Thames Street, America’s Cup Avenue and Bannister’s Wharf for debutantes and divorcees.
There was more action in town than there ever was on the water. At least more than most people ever saw, or cared about.
Yacht racing is not exactly a spectator sport.
As the late Red Smith, the greatest sportswriter of his — or, arguably, any other —– generation wrote while covering the America’s Cup races in Newport in 1970:
“In many American newspapers, the most absurdly overplayed event in sports is the ‘competition’ for the America’s Cup. A dentist filling a tooth offers livelier entertainment for spectators. It commands substantially less reader interest than the Treasury’s statement of gold balances. Still, there are papers that assign one or more staff men to the story for an entire summer, publish lengthy daily accounts of the trials leading to selection of a challenger and a defender, and devote six or eight columns of space to the predictable results while the races are underway.”
The Journal was one of those papers (as was, by the way, Smith’s New York Times) and I was one of those fortunate staff men.
As our late sports editor, Gene Buonaccorsi, said when assigning me (thank you, thank you, thank you) to Newport in those Cup summers: “You know port from starboard and you don’t get seasick.”
It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.
Day after day, I would work diligently on my tan (and, oh, yeah, my story), sandwich in one hand, cool beverage in the other (and, oh, yeah, notepad somewhere nearby) while sprawled on the bow of the boat the Journal shared with the Times, the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated, waiting near the buoy at the end of the downwind leg to see the spinnakers come down and the tacking duel begin.
Those were, indeed, the good old days. And nights.
As a sporting event, the America’s Cup isn’t much. As a social event, it’s the best. And there’s no better place to enjoy it than Newport.