Offshore Yachting : June July 2008
R humbline 74 | offshore Rhumbline Brian Northam epitomised the spirit of Gretel I n the wall of Brian Northam’s study at his home in the Sydney harbourside suburb of Greenwich hangs one of the most dramatic photographs in Australian yachting history – Gretel, our first challenger for the America’s Cup in 1962, surfing on an Atlantic roller to beat the US defender Weatherly by 47 seconds in race two of that historic contest. Brian had good reason to be immensely proud of that photograph, taken by Morris Rosenfeld; he was trimming the huge white spinnaker as Gretel surged past Weatherly to inflict the first race defeat of a American defender of the Cup since 1934. The New York Yacht Club retained the America’s Cup, but that year was the start of a new era in international yacht racing for Australia. Sadly, Brian Northam died in Sydney in late April at the age of 75 after a short illness, leaving less than half of the crew of Gretel still living (see eight bells on page 20). Long gone are the syndicate head Sir Frank Packer, designer Alan Payne and skipper Jock Sturrock, along with Archie Robertson, Frank McNulty, Peter (‘Pod’) O’Donnell, Norm Wright and Trevor Gowland. However, Dick Sargeant, Magnus Halvorsen and Mick York were able to farewell their old crew mate at the packed memorial service at St Giles Church in Greenwich. Other members of the 1962 Gretel crew still alive are Trygve Halvorsen and Bruce Anderson. Browsing through the book Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron – 1862-2000 and, in particular, the chapter on the America’s Cup, I came across an edited version of Mick York’s diary of the build-up races and the races themselves off Newport, Rhode Island. It struck me how young and perhaps naïve the challengers from Down Under in Gretel were. Here, in part, is Mick’s description of that historic race two: Tuesday – the second race – and it was blowing about 20 to 25 knots with large seas … foul weather for 12 metres in anyone’s language. I would say we got the better of this start, but Weatherly again headed us at the first mark. We both reached across the second leg (of the triangular course) and at the last mark we were about three boat lengths astern. From this mark to the finish the seas were rolling in from astern and we hoisted our spinnaker shortly after rounding and while we were struggling to hoist it a wave lifted our stern and the bow went about two feet under water. This wave carried us alongside the enemy as they were struggling to hoist their kite. We caught a similar wave and the Australian spirits were let loose as we surge down this shoot with the water flooding about 12 inches deep back at the grinders. We all let out a ‘Ya-hoo’ which caught the Yanks off guard and as they turned around to see us shooting past, they saw one of our lads whipping the deck with a rope’s end. We sailed through to win this race by 47 seconds and also establish a course record. There was ironic twist to that win: Gretel’s huge white spinnaker had been made by Hood sails originally for Weatherly but had not been collected from the Marblehead loft (or paid for). The Gretel team snapped it up and used it to outsail Weatherly in that historic race. A subsequent outcome was a successful move by Weatherly’s disgruntled skipper ‘Bus’ Mosbacher through the New York Yacht Club that forced future challengers to use only sails made from sailcloth manufactured in their own country. Brian Northam and his fellow crew of Gretel did not win the America’s Cup that year, but they set the pattern for those ‘Men from Down Under’ who in the wing-keeled Australia II in 1983 were finally able to wrest the Auld Mug from the New York Yacht Club.
April May 2008
August September 2008