• Bill Manning

Gretel 2 and France 2 in 1977 Americas Cup

In the northern summer of 1977 we shared a jetty with the French challenger in Newport RI. The France 2 challenge was financed and conducted by Baron Bich, and he was ably assisted by his son Bruno.


BILL MANNING BLOG - Shenandoah
Shenandoah

The Baron was a charming man and very generous. He organised all the challenging yacht crews Australia (Please note in the February Blog I had Australia 2 and it was my mistake, the boat was Australia), Sverige, Gretel 2 and France 2 to go out sailing on his yacht the “Shenandoah”. He appointed the crew of Australia to look after the 3 headsails, Gretel 2 to the fore main, Sverige mid ships and France 2 the aft main. It was a windy day much like in the photo and 12 metre sailing had been called off for the day. Under sail we beat to windward for about 10 miles and back with sheets eased on return, with the yacht now on an even keel. Look closely at the photo and between the foremast and midships mast there is a table that seats about 10 people. Baron called the crews to be seated by age the oldest first, the balance had to stand. He then had the crew bring out the cheese and wine in wooden boxes and served lunch. I can still taste that meal now 43 years later. Indeed a day to remember.


Bruno Bich was about the same age as myself. In the spirit of friendly rivalry we organised a race between the two of us. There were four parts to the competion:


  1. To climb the mast of the Shenandoah and drink a glass of French champagne,

  2. To race the bikes from the North Yard (where Shenandoah was moored) to our dock, about 2 kilometres;

  3. To race laser sailing boats around the harbour,

  4. To be shaved myself using a GII razor and Bruno using a Bic blade.


BILL MANNING BLOG - Bruno Bich shaves Bill Manning with a GII blade
Bruno Bich shaves Bill Manning with a GII blade

The lasers were lent to us by Ted Turner. He is a self made billionaire and a great sailor. Caprice of Huon came second to American Eagle the 1972 Sydney to Hobart race. He won the Americas Cup in 1977 in Courageous.



Ted's media empire began with his father's billboard business, Turner Outdoor Advertising, which he took over in 1963 after his father's suicide. It was worth $1 million. His purchase of an Atlanta UHF station in 1970 began the Turner Broadcasting System. He founded CNN (Cable News Network) in 1976 which revolutionized news media. His idea was to feed the news into the New York cable system and then to use a satellite to transmit the news.


Now this was picked up by Rupert Murdoch who founded News Corp. In 1976 he purchased the New York Post and appointed the CEO, another Australian sailor Curly Briden. It had headlines such as “Headless body in topless bra” if you get my drift. It happened that in about August of 1977 there was a newspaper strike on in New York. The proprietors all got together with Rupert and then staged a lockout. All except the New York Post oiled down their presses in readiness for a prolonged stoppage.


At the same time there was a murderer loose in New York going by the name of “Son of Sam”. He was murdering prostitutes. Obviously this was the New York Post’s bread and butter and after 2 days of strikes and lockouts the Post broke ranks with the newspaper proprietors and commenced publishing. They had the only newspaper with pictures and stories of many murdered prostitutes in New York for about 6 days, while the other newspapers got organised to publish. As a result Rupert earned the nickname (from The UK) of “The Dirty Digger”.


Rupert was a valued backer of our Gretel 2 challenge. He said at the outset

“here is the money and it comes with one condition that you do not ask for any more”.

(A demand that was necessitated by Alan Bond demanding that the sponsors of his Southern Cross Americas Cup Challenge in 1974 that they double their cash contributions.)


Rupert who was just starting an interest in cable and satellite TV transmission, came to Newport to meet with Ted Turner. We advised him to organise a breakfast meeting. Ted was a wild man in Newport in 1977, loved by his crew and feared by the Daughters of America. He had a thing with drinking. Thus the morning meeting. However we thought that the two never hit it off, and the meeting came to nothing.


There are some more anecdotes to tell about our stay in Newport but I shall make those the subject of a future blog.


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