America's Cup Agonistes

In the likely event you haven't heard -- or perhaps more likely don't care -- there's been another America's Cup festival this summer. It's about to climax way out in San Francisco Bay where the winds may be lusty but not the enthusiasm for a once magical sporting spectacle. Nor does that have much to do with the fact the American boat is getting drubbed.

Hard to believe it's been 30 years since we lost it.

My favorite America's Cup summer was 1974 when Newport was still, for a few precious weeks every three or four years, the utter epicenter of the sailing world as well as the ultimate salon of High Society.

The festival was then a mere 123 years old with America mounting its 23rd defense, most having been staged in the choppy waters that roll between Block Island and the rest of the Republic. At that point America's record was 65-6 in individual skirmishes while never losing a Series, making it the most lopsided competition in the history of sport.

That was because the New York Yacht Club in fastening its iron-grip on the Cup had stacked the rules -- over the first hundred years for the schooners and J-Class boats and then after 1958 for the gorgeous 12-meters -- in such a way as to make it impossible for them to lose the bloody bauble. It was still the age sportsmen called themselves "gentleman" with the distinction being clearly affirmed by the fact they alone were not only allowed to make all the rules but enforce them too. It must have been a by-product of what we loftily regarded as, our "manifest destiny."

And it was also, of course, entirely goofy albeit in an oddly wonderful way. By the late 20th century the festival -- at least in its traditional form featuring those 12-meter beauties -- was courting obsolescence if not downright irrelevance. Yet we clung to it, wistfully! It was my pleasure to have been assigned to cover six of them, from 1967 to 1983, and undeterred by an ignorance of sailing, let alone a competence in so much as a rowboat, I gladly complied, the ambience being as much an allure as the racing. They were the last six Cup-runs orchestrated out of rollicking Newport and, for my money, the last six that had any genuine meaning.

The summer of '74 may have been the high water mark of this grand illusion. The Aussies, who were always good fun, were the challengers and the Yacht Club dandies in their blue blazers and straw hats -- seemingly more nervous than usual -- had turned to a modest and taciturn plebeian from Marblehead to handle the defense, Ted Hood.

Courageous, an iron-willed gem of a 12-meter, represented America. Southern Cross bore Australia's colors and for months there'd been much fancy talk about her being a very special boat. Adding to the fun was the bombastic leadership hotshot entrepreneur Allan Bond gave to his Aussie delegation. He was the sort of character F. Scott Fitzgerald might also have called "an elegant roughneck" and he had lots of great fun ruffling the easily ruffled feathers of the boys in the blue blazers.

Quite as usual, everyone who was anyone was in town for the grand finale. It was a splendid if tattered mob of veteran bores and curious natures that included boat crews and yachting swells, leisure class relics, giggling hippies, and classless interlopers; all reveling in being borne back aimlessly into the past.

As was then the custom, the weeks leading up to the Finals in September were cluttered with parties lighting up the tired old mansions on Bellevue Avenue. It was a great human spectator fleet of teetering fortunes and dusty manners that launched their Cup observances with the "English Speaking Union Ball" at Rosecliff where just months before Bob Redford's remake of "The Great Gatsby" had been filmed.

Three nights later roughly the same crowd reassembled at The Elms, a few doors down the avenue, with even the motley out of town media being invited (as long as we promised to behave). It was the occasion of one of my more boffo moments in the business.

I was having great fun watching the royalty hobnob with one another when I became ensnared in a conversation involving several fortunes, including one purportedly the owner of Schaefer Beer, when a middle-aged matron inquired, "And what is your name?"

"Clark Booth," I said firmly.

"Oh yes," she replied. ''Of the Gin Booths!" She sort of wheezed the word "gin," giving it a kind of aroma, and I sensed being struck with instant respect. "Yes, yes," snipped her husband, a more elderly sort. ''The Booths have long had a place down here." When I later shared the story with my dad, then the weary manager of a struggling bookstore, he got a huge kick out of it.

The night bore on achieving a brilliance deriving from its own desperate yearning. Twenty waiters in red jackets poured drinks non-stop along a bar half the length of a football field. There was no sign of Gilda Gray, but a man pointed to a grove of trees and said he'd just seen Walter Cronkite chatting in its shadowy recesses. A rumor swept the lawn that Jacqueline Onassis would be arriving the next day. It seemed almost impertinent of the races to interrupt all this fabulously rich frivolity.

But they reared two days later and quickly proved once again anti-climactic. With fog hovering ten miles out, daringly aggressive skippering by Hood right at the starting-line stunned the Aussies leaving them reeling. Only minutes into the first match, the legendary John Ahern of the Globe -- himself one of the event's great characters -- breezily declared, "This Race is over!" By which he meant the entire challenge. Sure enough, invincible Courageous romped in four straight.

Ever good sports, the Aussie crewmen partied uproariously back at their Newport dock, devouring much champagne while rendering rousing renditions of "Waltzing Matilda." Then they boarded a dinghy aiming to join their American foes celebrating aboard Courageous down the harbor, only to capsize halfway there. It was glorious!

Undaunted they went home knowing they'd learned much. Successive challenges in '77 and '80 were much tighter. The technology was fast-changing and they were ahead of that curve. More importantly, the rules were changing too. There were bitter disputes ending in the courts. The boys in the blue blazers no longer ruled the roost.

When the Aussies returned in 1983 with what everyone knew would be the toughest challenge ever they'd become wildly sentimental favorites, especially with the American media which found Johnny Bertrand, skipper of Australia II, far more charming than his technocratic and humorless U.S. adversary, Dennis Connor.

And I vaguely recall one of the old pros -- probably Johnny Ahern -- warning; "Be careful what you wish for, lads. If they ever take the Cup, we'll never get it back!" Words that were written on the wind! In a seven-race epic, Australia stunned the world.

In this year's 34th renewal, Emirates Team of New Zealand is on the verge of crushing America's Team Oracle, the defending champ. As of the writing, Emirates leads by seven races pursuing New Zealand's third cup.

It now takes about a dozen to win the thing but the races are much shorter and faster in their dazzling supersonic catamarans that don't so much sail as skip over the bounding main like atomized space-craft as the 11 crewmen hang on for dear life. These so-called ''boats'' make the old 12-meters, for all their beauty, look like ragged ghost ships from the age of the Sea Hawks. But are they as authentic? I don't think so!

Nowadays, it's all about the high-technology yet more dangerous than ever. A legendary sailor was lost along the way. So drama persists. It's even more expensive, exclusive, exotic, elite.

But sadly lost are its once fabled music, charm, and mystique. Gone too, its emphasis on the skill, strength, and valor of men driven to engage the almighty seas, in all their mystery. Gone above all, a timeless romance with the past that made it special and quaint.

Or, so it seems to me. Maybe it's sour grapes. But I don't think so!

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Catholic workers say U.S. aid cuts to Palestinians could be disastrous

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The U.S. budgetary cuts to humanitarian aid institutions helping Palestinians could lead to long-term disastrous consequences, said ...