Gretel 2 and Sverige in 1977 America’s Cup
In 1977 I was the manager of the Gretel 2 challenge for the Americas Cup. We were in USA from June 1977 to Sept 1977, and were an older crew with an average age of 35 years. Back in Australia the newspapers had refereed to us as “Dads Navy”. Turning adversity into advantage we therefore had t-shirts printed with “Daughters of America lock up your mothers”.
On the picture - back row right to left, Leon Cremer, David Kellett, Geoff Gale, John Freedman, Joe Cooper, Peter Nicholson, Bob Ogilvie, Bruce Gould, 2nd row Jack Christoffersen, Gordon Marshall, Peter Cole, Gordon Ingate, Dick Lawson, Graham Ewing, 3rd row Graham Newland, Bill Dewer, Mark Ross, Jack Gale, George Bate, Graeme Brown, Bill Manning.
What we did not realise at the time “Daughters of America” are a very influential group of ladies, some perhaps on the wrong side of 50, who had an ancestry going back to the founding fathers. Well they were enthralled with the t-shirts and with us.
Newport is a quaint town with plenty of history. It was where most of the Americas Cup races had been held, it was the summer holiday venue for the super rich, Jackie Kennedy grew up here and is famous for its mansions. It is believed, Captain Cook’s Endeavour was sunk here in 1776 during the American War of Independence.
As the town was founded in the 1639, it has a lot of wooden buildings and as a result it has a fantastic fire brigade. The White Elephant was a ladies college dormitory built of wood with sufficient accomodation for our crew of 21. On our first breakfast the smoke alarm rang because we had burnt the toast. Well in an instant we could hear the fire brigade siren and then the arrival of this fire truck with everything but a Dalmatian dog, it even had a man steering the back wheels just like in the movies. They came straight in through the fly screen door yelling
They then established that the problem was burnt toast and said
“we hope you blokes can sail better than you can cook toast”.
By agreement I was appointed fire warden and it was my duty to get everybody out when the alarm sounded. This I did dutifully and had a carton for beer at the ready for the firemen as the arrived very frequently for the rest of our stay.
The other group we befriended over the summer were the police. Newport grows most of the lettuce for New York. Italians are traditional gardeners, and where there are Italians there some of dubious character. Indeed the mayor of Newport was “Alfonso” who drove a big black car. But we got on very well with them and purchased a lot of “Policeman’s Ball tickets”.
Now Newport was and is a summer tourist town and it gets very crowded and is prone to big big traffic jams. Me, being the last to leave the boat always had a problem getting back 2 kilometres up hill to the “White Elephant” for drinks at 1730 hrs. The solution was solved by me calling the police and asking for a lift. They would arrive, largely using the footpath with sirens going and then transporting me to the “White Elephant”. I would arrive under arrest and handcuffed to the delight of the crew.
As an alternate to the police I could call the fire brigade who would arrive by the same route, using the footpath and with sirens going. As to the arrival at the “White Elephant” I would arrive with a fire helmet on the back of the unit, but not steering.
The challengers for the 1977 Americas Cup were Australia 2, France 2, Sverige (in English Sweden) and ourselves Gretel 2. The Swedes were staying at Hammersmith Farm (where Jacky Kennedy grew up) which was a little way out of town and they had limited English. In the spirit of inclusion we decided inviting them to a tennis match. Supposedly unbeknown to the Swedes we had John Newcombe already selected on our team. Unbeknown to us they got wind of our team composition and added a young person we had not heard of, a Swede by the name of Bjorn Borg. Well needless to say Borg beat Newcombe, but we had a great afternoon of tennis and hijinks. Our own champ was the man in charge of boats, the late Jack Gale aged about 60 years at the time. Jack was our best home grown player.
His son Geoff was resuscitating him every 3 minutes with our breathing gear we had for diving. Jack would introduce himself to the ladies as Geoff’s brother but without much luck!
The Swedes returned the invitation and invited us all up to Hammersmith Farm for an evening party. The French were invited also. It was due to commence about 2000 hrs and food and drinks were supplied. Now Hammersmith Farm had a kilometre of driveway between the front fence and the house. This gave us a great opportunity to arrive with a fanfare. We organised with the Police to escort us to the venue with 2 motorcycle outriders in the front of our car convoy, a squad car in the middle and 2 motorcycles bringing up the rear. Our convoy consisted of Bubbles Bus (a laundry van), 3 cars for the syndicate members and a ute.
We arranged that at the front fence the police would turn on their sirens to announce our arrival. All went according to plan except when we arrived at the house we were met by the skipper of Sverige, Pelle Pettersson and his wife nobody else. It turned out the crew were on some funny cigarettes etc at the time and thought it was a police raid. It took one quarter of an hour to entice the crew back to the house from the garden with the smell of “mowed grass”.
We partied for some time prior to returning to town in Bubbles Bus. We had 2 Frenchmen with us, Eric Malae and Alan Quadelier. After a few drinks at the Candy Store in Thames St it came time to return to our lodgings at the the White Elephant at about 0300 hrs. As we began our return trip the two Frenchmen and a crew member Graeme Brown spied some roadworks and in particular the Pelham St street sign. They decided it would look good at the White House. As they were fetching the street sign to the Bubbles Bus ,it took 3 men to lift it, a tall African American was coming in the front left hand door. They met in the middle of the bus. To quote him “I aint seen nothing” and he left as he had entered.
The sign was duly placed in the driveway of the White Elephant and it stayed there for 2 days.
More of the America’s Cup next month.