When Australia issued a challenge for the America's Cup the U.S. accepted with polite confidence. The U.S. has successfully defended the cup 17 times in a monotonous procession of easy victories. In every race since the first in 1851 the U.S. has had the better crew and, with one exception—in 1934, when Britain's Endeavour challenged—has always had the better boat.
This is Australia's first try for the cup, and this week the Aussie challenger, Gretel (see cover), arrives on the East Coast. Within another week Gretel will be tuning up, in the company of her trial horse, Vim, on the 24-mile America's Cup course off Newport, R.I.
The challenger is the first 12-meter ever designed or built in Australia. Gretel was born in secrecy half a world away, and this, coupled with Australia's general reputation for imaginative pioneering, has prompted speculation that Gretel might be the first of a new and better breed of 12-meter sloop.
On the eve of Gretel's debut in U.S. waters her designer, Alan Payne, has released an exclusive preview (cutaway below). To the casual eye there is precious little of Gretel that seems exotic or revolutionary. Considering the rigid rules governing the size, materials and construction of a 12-meter, this is understandable. Of necessity, improvement is limited to subtleties. As Designer Payne admits, "I haven't made any brilliant discoveries...just tried to make small things a little bit better than ever before." Australia's success this September will depend largely on whether all the "small things" add up to a better boat.
Payne took into consideration the fact that the cup is seldom contested in heavy weather. Gretel is designed more for maneuverability than heavy going. Match races are won in seconds—and seconds are lost by a jammed halyard or a sluggish winch. Payne's desire to provide the crew with a responsive boat is implicit in Gretel's powerful, high-speed deck gear, refined running rigging and hull design. If Gretel's gear lives up to its expected efficiency, the Australian crew could be cut from a normal complement of 11 to possibly eight, to eliminate weight, windage and confusion. While emphasizing sail-handling ability, Payne has sought to preserve the sail-carrying quality of a strong, stable hull. In fact, in her first runs in Australia Gretel went best to windward in a stiff breeze. This versatile balance of power and quick handling should make her slippery, agile and elusive in tacking duels. More than pure speed, match racing requires a prompt, lively boat that can hold its momentum in sudden turns.
Gretel's inconclusive trial bouts with Vim in Australian waters this spring served chiefly to train the crew and test her sails. She has 46 sails, and these, as well as her rigging and gear, need further testing, modification and adjustment before the Aussies can be certain they have a smoothly functioning unit that is good enough to win the cup.
To produce an easy-handling and responsive boat without losing strength and power demands an intricate balance of elements. In Gretel, Designer Payne has fastidiously saved weight, within the limits of safety, but has deviated from the accepted practice of putting this saving in the keel for stability, electing instead to put it in deck machinery. Two of Gretel's obvious weight-saving features are her knuckle bow (1) and the reverse transom (2). Payne has also ingeniously scrimped in novel ways by scalloping the chain plates (3), by carrying the hull planks into the deck (4) to eliminate heavy fastenings and by designing a bow chock (5) that can be removed while racing. Much of this saved weight has been invested in extravagant winches, which by virtue of their size alone should be reliable time-savers. Gretel's two-speed Genoa coffee grinders (6) have foot-pedal gear controls for simultaneous winching and adjustment. (But their location under the boom may cause a cracked skull for an unwary winch pumper.) The three-speed mainsheet coffee grinder (7) connects by a shaft to an awesome—and expensive-winch drum (8), which has a threaded axle to guide the wire sheet onto the drum's precut grooves, preventing over-riding turns. In designing the mainsheet tackle (9) Payne has traded the purchase and reliability of the fore-and-aft, double-mainsheet system for the simplicity and speed of a transverse single-wire setup. From a deadeye on the port coaming the sheet runs through the first of two sheaves on a roller-bearing traveler (10) up to a modest boom block, back down through the second traveler sheave to a fixed, angled deck sheave (11) through the deck to the winch drum. Each of the twin backstay winches in the after cockpit (12) has two wheels, a vertical one for rapid winching, a horizontal one for trim. By adding weight on deck rather than in the keel, Payne sacrificed natural stiffness—the ability of a hull to hold course and remain upright. To compensate he has tried to build stability as well as speed into the hull lines. The wide flat run (13) and sharp stem, rounded at the waterline (14), add stiffness and also afford Gretel longer sailing lines when heeled, increasing potential hull speed. The sloping keel, with its deepest draft aft, and the location of the rectangular rudder (15) well forward cut underwater friction. While this trim underbody contributes to Gretel's maneuverability, the lack of resistance to sideways pressure in a hull design of this sort could increase leeway-an undesirable factor on a reach or a beat. But, surprisingly, in her trial runs to date Gretel shows no sideslipping tendencies. In fact she has proved better reaching than running and actually goes best to windward in breezes of 10 knots or more. Gretel may look delicate, but she's a typically tough, wiry Australian.