Hospitality at heart of successful bid

April 21, 2017


The year 1983 proved to be the turning point between the amateur/Corinthian efforts, and professional sailing.

Dennis Conner lost the America’s Cup after 132 years of America’s successful defence. This culminated with the proper beginning of professionalism in sailing.

No longer was it acceptable that sailors could race out of sight of the public’s view. Sailing was under pressure even at the Olympic level to bring their sport to the public eye. It was now necessary to give a show of just how spectacular sailing could be to the world.

Dennis Conner was ready to mount another challenge having been the first man in America to lose the America’s Cup. An unforgivable deed in the eyes of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC).

He would never be excused for his failure and he soon began to realise his folly. Conner put together, what was for the day, the best America’s Cup challenge of that era. He went back to the West Coast, to his roots in San Diego, and formed a most formidable syndicate that was based in Hawaii. Conner was doing his homework in terms of how a modern challenge would work. He realised that he not only needed a professional full-time crew, he needed a design team that had balance, and would gain an advantage for him.

Computers had finally begun to rule the world of sailing design. Sailing had in recent years become a child of the aerospace industry.

“What works in flying also works on water.” That prophetic aspect of sailing is now glaringly obvious today. Conner utilised every aspect of design coordination in every area of the boat, including its sails to optimise performance. He ultimately won back the Cup for America.

Back to the World Match Racing Tour, and what would be the impact of this revolutionary entity in sailing? The new age of professional sailing and sailors had just emerged and Chris Dickson and Sir Russell Coutts were a big part of those early days.

Dickson came to Bermuda for the Gold Cup in 1989 and won it in a clean sweep, beating a very young Coutts in the final. The next year Coutts won the cup.

The young blood was now pushing the racing establishment in the match racing arenas and things were changing rapidly. The Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (RBYC) was a big part of this era in match racing, and innovative as well.

They were one of the first to introduce on-the-water umpiring into match racing. This meant that the bad boys could no longer win in a protest room off the racecourse. Decisions were made on the spot. Sailing was finally growing up and growing out of its insular shell.

Now, one of the most interesting twists of fate enters the discussion on how Bermuda wins the right to host the America’s Cup.

A very simple act of hospitality and kindness was attached to accommodation of all sailors who attended the Gold Cup. Through great volunteer efforts Bermudians hosted competitors from this event in their homes. This made for a completely different experience than the sailors were used to.

They became intimate friends with us, including Coutts. He, as a young man, got to stay in Bermudian homes, sometimes with the most eccentric Bermudians. The warmth of our hospitality, and all his experiences during his stays in Bermuda, I believe convinced him that someday, if he were in charge, Bermuda could host a major event.

True to his word among his Bermudian friends he has delivered a very big promise.

Sir Russell invited Bermuda to host the America’s Cup and we made it happen. As I reflect on the magnitude of what Sir Russell has done for us, his contribution to Bermuda becomes more obvious as we inch closer to the date.

I will go into more recent times with the Cup after it is over, but for now I invite all Bermudians to recognise the importance of Sir Russell’s role in Bermuda’s future success as a global stage for international sports, particularly sailing.

He came here as a young gun and achieved success in the Gold Cup that helped him gain the platform to go on to America’s Cup fame. He did not forget us and we cannot forget him. In my view, he is among Bermuda’s great personalities in our history of success.

Bermuda can rightfully take our place among the great maritime nations of history. We have given the world a great gift in the “Bermuda Rig,” Sir Russell has introduced us to the America’s Cup.

So, if you see him be sure to say “thank you”, after all, it’s that famous Bermudian friendliness and hospitality that played a big part in our securing this prestigious event. Long may it live.

Paul Doughty is the archivist and historian of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. Information from Sherman Hoyt’s Memoirs (D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.) and articles by Dr Edward Harris, executive director of the National Museum of Bermuda, were used in the writing of this article