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Original Issue


"Columbia," America's Cup heroine of 1958, is a vivacious contender once again, thanks to Patrick Dougan (right)

In the 52 years that he has been alive and smiling Thomas Patrick Dougan of Newport Beach, Calif. has known good times and bad, at work and at play. On the golf course he has sometimes eagled and frequently bogeyed. At poker he has sometimes filled an inside straight and has often drawn junk. In World War II, because of four teeth lost on the playing fields (where wars are supposedly won), he was rejected as officer material and made a Navy cook.

Pat Dougan has been bilked once or twice in the business world, too, but he has ended up a success—such a success that in early 1964 he could afford to take as reckless a step as any genial, brainy Irishman ever took. In a tax-heavy age when very few men can even afford the thought Dougan up and bought the handsome but obsolete 1958 America's Cup defender Columbia. He not only bought her, but on short notice he jumped right into the 1964 America's Cup selection trials against newer, smarter boats and took a licking, losing 15 races and winning only three.

As anyone with a grasp of yachting history knows, in America's Cup competition the record of smart, genial Irishmen is definitely not good. Sir Thomas Lipton, Belfast's lovable old dispenser of tea leaves and Gaelic charm, tried for 30 years to win the cup and never did. But with utter disregard for the Irish jinx Pat Dougan is once again pitting his Columbia against three other expensive, windblown American beauties, Intrepid, Constellation and American Eagle, for the honor of defending the cup against Dame Pattie. Although her crew—sailing another ancient defender, Weatherly—has already faced the other contenders in a set of preliminary trials (SI, June 26), Columbia herself will meet them for the first time in the observation trials off Newport this week.

Columbia, like two of her rivals, Constellation and Intrepid, was created by the master designer, Olin Stephens. Because Intrepid is the latest 12-meter yacht to emerge from Stephens' complicated brain, she is the obvious favorite, but railbirds who want a good long shot might consider Dougan's boat for several reasons. For one thing, although there is a certain mellow similarity between the two men, Dougan is definitely not a latter-day Lipton. As devoted as Sir Thomas was to the America's Cup quest, he never personally got into the fray much deeper than his wallet. In his most lucid moments Sir Tommy barely knew the difference between a bowsprit and a boomkin.

In contrast, as owner and skipper of Columbia, for the past year, Pat Dougan has not only been paying through the nose, but he has also been up to his armpits—and occasionally over his head—in the actual campaign.

Furthermore, although Dougan's Columbia, statistically speaking, is now the oldest contender, she is no longer the old-fashioned girl she used to be. The original Columbia came off Olin Stephens' drawing board in 1957. She was one of the first 12-meters of the postwar era, designed to get more power out of synthetic sails than the pre-World War II 12s could ever get from their baggy canvas. She was good enough to defend the cup against the feeble English effort in 1958, but never was good enough, or sailed well enough, thereafter. The fact that a new America's Cup course was adopted in 1964, putting a heavy premium on work to windward, was sufficient to make the old Columbia obsolete.

Indeed, by returning East for another try with a boat that he insists on calling Columbia, Pat Dougan comes close to committing fraud. Counting ribs, skin, keel, bulkheads, scantlings, spars, fittings, rigging and whatnot, there is only about 30% of the original Columbia in Dougan's boat. To be completely honest, Dougan should change her name from Columbia to Califumbia, because most of the present boat, though based on redesign work by Stephens, was constructed in San Diego. Because of all the alterations, Dougan's Califumbia (or Columbia, if you insist) is, in effect, the second newest and second most promising 12-meter yacht in the trials.

From amidships aft the new Columbia is entirely new. The original wineglass configuration of her after sections has been replaced by a more V-shaped form. The keel of Columbia is now like that of her younger sister, Constellation, the successful defender of the cup in 1964. To make the most of her measured waterline length, in the after sections of the hull Columbia's lines have been drawn out like those of the still younger Intrepid, the newest contender.

Columbia's deck, never too junky, is now as uncluttered, efficient and uninviting-looking as a hospital bed. From the centerline her deck slopes downward two or three degrees to her outboard rails, and she does not even have a toe rail to help keep her deckhands aboard. To survive and do their work commendably on a bouncy, windy day, Columbia's deck slaves need the brawn of King Kong and the surefootedness of a chamois.

From tank tests it is known that the new Columbia is as much an improvement over Constellation as Constellation was over the original Columbia. Since there is no comparable tank data available, no one knows how the revamped Columbia measures against Intrepid, the newest girl in the game. Columbia might prove to be no match at all—or she might be just as good, or she might be better. Designer Stephens confesses: "My sympathies, generally speaking, are with the newer boat. Anybody who does this kind of work likes to see his newest ideas proved out. But, pulling against this feeling, I have a fondness for the older boats, Columbia and Constellation. It is important to remember that the more you try to improve 12-meter design, the more you run the risk of stubbing your toe and falling down badly."

In its erratic, fitful history the America's Cup has attracted a wild variety of sportsmen, ranging from very cool cucumbers such as Harold Vanderbilt to firebrands like England's Earl of Dunraven, who had the emotional stability of a Roman candle. Considering his origins, Thomas Patrick Dougan is as unlikely an America's Cup devotee as you might find. He was born in the town of Maryville, in the flat northwest corner of Missouri, about as far from sea water as it is possible to get in the U.S. Dougan graduated second in his class from the local parochial high school—a distinction that becomes somewhat undistinguished when you consider that there were only eight seniors that year. He attended Northwest Missouri State College, right there in Maryville, for two and a half years, and then in December of 1934 he got in his car and headed west.

To finance the trip, 20-year-old Dougan took two creaky 30-year-old schoolmarms along as paying passengers. As he now recalls, smiling and blushing, he arrived in Los Angeles safely, with his outlook broadened but his morals still intact. His original intention had been merely to visit briefly in southern California, the land of instant miracles. Although the only miracles he witnessed in his first week were wrought on New Year's Day by two other tourists from Alabama—Dixie Howell and Don Hutson, who squashed Stanford 29-13 in the Rose Bowl—Dougan fell in love with the promised land and stayed.

Lest anyone assume that Pat Dougan was some kind of a nut to become enraptured so quickly by Los Angeles, it is only fair to point out that in that long-gone day the word smog had not been coined, the scent of orange blossoms hung over the land and it was possible to drive from Los Angeles to Long Beach without losing a fender. "Back then the air was soft," Dougan recalls, "and so clear you could see ants crawling on the sides of the mountains."

Since migrating to California 32 years ago, Dougan has occasionally fallen in love in improbable ways at improbable times. Friends who know him well attest that once he falls in love he does not fall out again. This quirk—or virtue—explains as well as anything why he is still happily married to his real, church-recognized wife, even though three years ago he took up with the old 12-meter girl, Columbia, and has been equally loyal to her.

Dougan's first job in Los Angeles was in the bedding-and-mattress department of Barker Brothers Home Furnishings at Seventh and Figueroa. When a couple named Bailey came into Barker Brothers they did not get back out until Dougan had sold them not only bedding but chairs, sofas, tables, lamps, rugs, kitchen appliances and everything for their home. And even then they were not through with Dougan. He subsequently asked their daughter, Catherine, for her hand and got it. Pat and Catherine Dougan have lived happily together ever since, except for the closing year of World War II, when he was shipped off to the recaptured island of Guam and given the responsibility of feeding 7,000 sailors. Although by then the shooting was over on Guam, for Dougan, T.P., Navy Cook, First Class, the war was still hell. U.S. marines, dissatisfied with their own grub, kept infiltrating his Navy mess, and 10 Japanese holdouts were captured in his chow lines.

After the war Dougan went into the foam-rubber business. The route of his progress upward—and sometimes sideways—in various companies is enough to befuddle both Mr. Dun and Mr. Bradstreet. To understand Dougan, it is sufficient only to know that in the process of succeeding as a foam-rubber man he fell in love again—this time with a neglected Cinderella of the industry, an extraordinary foaming petroleum derivative called urethane. Urethane was developed by the Germans and first used by them as structural coring in the V-2 rockets that terrorized London in World War II. Today, in some form or other—flexible or rigid, featherlight or dense as mahogany—urethane foam is used in packaging, cushioning, insulating, sound-dampening, flotation, construction and so forth. Teen-age America now rides on surfboards made of urethane. When she sings, Julie Andrews is frequently surrounded by urethane stage props. When the Viet Cong artillery mucks up an airstrip, a properly compound urethane liquid and catalyst are poured into each shell crater and, presto chango, the hole fills up with a dense, rigid foam. (Any homeowner who contemplates using urethane to fill the holes dug in his yard by neighborhood kids and their dogs is hereby warned: if a little too much of the wrong mixture is poured in a hole, the homeowner may end up with Mt. Rushmore on his front lawn.) In the 1950s entrepreneurs of all sorts tried to cash in on the miraculous foaming urethane. A great many of them are now in their financial graves. Dougan survived because he and his colleagues were not so much interested in realizing a quick profit as investigating the future of the magic potion. Dougan is now employed by the Upjohn Company as president of their Chemical Plastics Research Division, which continues to investigate the potentials of urethane. The soft pads on the legs of the first Surveyor satellite to land on the moon came from Dougan's plant.

Dougan contracted the dread disease, America's Cup-itis, primarily because he started spending his summers south of Los Angeles in Newport Beach, a sailing community where saltiness runs comfortably ahead of godliness on the list of acceptable virtues. By the time Dougan moved to Newport Beach on a permanent basis he and his five children were so well marinated that he wanted to buy an ocean-racing yacht of his own. He considered two of the good secondhand buys then on the market—the distinguished sea-roving yawl Bolero and the cutter Nam Sang. Before he made a decision Columbia, the old gem of the ocean, came up for sale. Dougan fired in a bid by wire in mid-April of 1964 and owned her two days later. He had every intention of converting her into a racing-cruising yacht, but love again blinded him. "When I went East to look at her," he relates, "even though she was covered with dust in Luders' shed in Stamford she was very, very beautiful to me." Dougan postponed the conversion and, instead, entered old Columbia in the 1964 cup trials, banking on used sails and a 30-day-wonder crew that had zeal and little else going for it. Even after doing very poorly in the trials Dougan did not have the heart to carry out his plan to turn the old America's Cupper into the seafarer she was never meant to be.

Although Olin Stephens is certainly her true father, the new Columbia curiously reflects the personality of Skipper Dougan: when she moves through the water she is easy and uncomplaining. Comparing the redesigned hull with the original, Gerry Driscoll, the San Diegan who rebuilt it—and who was slated to be at the helm in the present campaign—says, "The new Columbia is much quieter and easier. She has almost no quarter wave. There was a bow noise in the old hull. The bow used to grumble—that's the only word I know to describe it. When you were at the helm you could hear it and feel it, and now you do not. Whether it is because of additional displacement aft or the new after shape, I do not know."

Although she is no longer a grumbler, in her months of prepping for the impending trials, the new Columbia had troubles enough. Her sails did not all fit, she broke a mast, deadlines were not met and miscalculations were made in her measurements, so that with some sails she was not taking full advantage of her allowance under the 12-meter rule. Worst of all, Helmsman Gerry Driscoll up and quit for reasons that he decently refuses to discuss and that still remain obscure in Skipper Dougan's mind. Although with the withdrawal of Driscoll he lost as fine a helmsman as the West Coast has, Dougan lucked out. It so happened that several years earlier Briggs Cunningham, the sportsman nonpareil who steered Columbia to victory in 1958, had left the hard-rock Connecticut coast and taken up residence on the sagging shores of southern California. When drafted by Dougan, Cunningham was willing to serve as Columbia's helmsman again. (You can't buy that kind of luck. It happens only to Irishmen.) As he faces up to the present trials, Cunningham has only one doubt: whether he, a human now older and incapable of renovation, still has what it takes to do justice to the new, redesigned boat.

Outwardly Skipper Dougan seems to be the type who could smile his way through any troubled sea, and on his nonbusiness days, when he is operating pour le sport aboard Columbia, he is faithful to this image. Back in mid-May, when Columbia broke her mast in the process of testing a new, ill-fitting sail, Dougan was in the cockpit. As $20,000 worth of dreams, aspirations, aluminum and Dacron came tumbling down, Dougan said simply, "Well, sir, there she goes." To appreciate Dougan in toto, to understand the ticking brain that lies behind the smile, it is necessary to visit his office at the CPR Division of Upjohn in the smoggy heat of Torrance, Calif. When the weight of business is upon him, why, Dougan sometimes goes for as long as 10 minutes without smiling at all. When talking to subalterns across his desk, spouting facts, figures and formulas, Dougan occasionally leans back in his chair, but he always keeps both feet firmly planted, as if he expected the San Andreas Fault suddenly to open up underneath him. In a crisis his lower lip puckers into a Churchillian pout, and his eyes take on the intentness of a Tory bulldog who is about to plant a few teeth in the opposition. In the course of an hour Dougan may not move from his chair, but in that time his spectacles travel about half a mile. He jabs the air with them; he waves them in circles to emphasize a point. He polishes the lenses on his pants leg. He rubs the nose-piece of the spectacles between his thumb and forefinger. He folds the earpieces of the spectacles in and out and in, and he occasionally chews on the end of one of them. Every now and again he reaches over with his starboard hand and tries to scratch his port ear. About once an hour the spectacles come to rest on his nose in front of his eyes. Dougan claims that he never loses spectacles, but he admits that he wears out three pairs a year.

However well Columbia, the nautical love of his life, fares in the coming trials, Dougan will go home something of a winner. By giving it a serious go this year, he is opening the door for the West and making the U.S. cup defense, for the first time in its long and not altogether healthy life, a genuinely national affair. In the past, western sailors of financial consequence have been reluctant to give it a try, some because they doubted a western boat could get a fair shake back East, others because they did not feel it was possible to recruit a competent crew that would devote three months to the cause while their businesses went into the red and their wives packed off to Reno. Dougan simply ignored all the ghosts of what might happen, confident that if he got a boat of promise the proper talent would rally to her. Gerry Driscoll has this to say: "I can remember long ago, shortly after the war, there was talk of getting a California boat in the America's Cup, but usually the biggest talk was right after a cup series, when talking was easy. Pat Dougan deserves a great deal of credit, because while others talked, he did something. Yes, Pat did something."