Dennis (the Menace) Conner vs. Robert Edward (Terrible Ted) Turner. They have raced many times before, and this week they're mixing it up again in the first round of the most prolonged sailing test of all: the summer-long trials to select a defender of the America's Cup.
To judge solely by the records of the two men, it should be an even go. Around the buoys and on the open sea, in match races and fleet races, in boats large and small, they have both been consistent front-runners, progressing ever upward, sometimes on collision courses, sometimes on diverging ones. They both have boats of proved worth. Turner will be at the helm of Courageous, the winning hull when new in 1974 and again when he defended the Cup in 1977. Conner will be sailing a new boat, Freedom, which after a year of pacing and racing has proved a shade superior to her stablemate, Enterprise, the runner-up to Courageous three years ago.
Over the years, as designers have produced 12-meter hulls more and more alike and sailmakers have grown wiser and wiser (and richer), competition among those vying for the defender's berth has become closer. There will be few times this summer when one boat easily marches away from another, consuming spectators with boredom before the first rounding mark. What makes the trials still more appealing, particularly for buffs who dote on long shots, is that a third skipper, a genuine underdog named Russell Long, will be competing in a brand-new, dark-blue hull called Clipper.
Twenty-four-year-old Russell Long of New York City has seen only two America's Cup races and was bored by both. Until last summer he had never been on a 12-meter, much less at the helm of one. In the 129 years since it all began, never before has a fair-haired, blue-eyed lamb as young as Long ventured into the America's Cup arena, a sacrificial site customarily reserved for the slaughter of sun-wrinkled veterans. Considering his modest credentials, Long's chances seem slight enough. When his two opponents, Turner and Conner, are taken into account, his prospects look very dim. Actually, for a variety of disconnected reasons, Long has quite a good shot at it.
One asset surely working for him is his own well-contained optimism. After solving personal problems that had been unsettling him off and on, Long took up the America's Cup quest last spring, realizing that to knock off a Goliath or two requires not only the faith of David but also lots of practice with the right-sized pebbles in the right kind of sling. In that regard his unexpected debut in the big time parallels that of Turner, one of the Goliaths he now faces. After emerging from a morass of problems 15-odd years ago, Turner got aboard the right kind of stock boat (a Cal 40 called Vamp X), took dead aim on the ocean-racing establishment and wiped it out.
Thanks in part to the mixed games he has played as sportsman and breadwinner, Long has not lost his perspective. As he hustles money to keep his campaign going, he is sometimes appalled by the cost, but he is not awed by the importance of the America's Cup or the grandeur of the powerful, ponderous boats involved in it. A year ago, padding along with the rest of the Boston Marathon mob, Long completed the 26-mile, 385-yard distance in three hours, nine minutes. He realizes that if, in every race on her appointed course of 28 statute miles, he could keep the $300,000 Clipper moving at the speed he himself can run in $21 Adidas shoes, he would have Turner and Conner put away by mid-August.
Like both Turner and Conner, Long has done a lot of ocean racing, but unlike them, he has little taste for it. His father, Sumner (Huey) Long, a prosperous shipping broker, is well known for his series of ocean racers called Ondine. As Russ Long now recalls, he first raced aboard his father's second Ondine at the age of seven, on some overseas course in winds of gale force or worse. "It was up to 50 or 60 knots, I am told," Long says, "but I wouldn't know. I wasn't on deck much. I spent most of the race either trying to stay in my bunk or trying to get back in it. Every now and again a wave would grab the boat and throw it up. When it came back down, I would still be in the air. When a seven-year-old kid starts considering suicide as an alternative to his immediate problems, he knows he is in the wrong sport.
"I did a lot of racing on Ondines when I was young," Long continues, "and hated it, mostly because of seasickness. My father and I used to have mammoth battles about my sailing with him. He'd say, 'Ah, you're getting older, you'll get over seasickness.' He'd say, 'We have this new pill. Try it.' I tried everything from Marezine to Bonine to Dramamine. Nothing worked. I even tried the astronaut's special space-sickness pills. They made me throw up."
Several years ago, after reconciling some personal difference with his father, Russ Long started racing again on the fourth Ondine, skippering her occasionally in his father's absence. In the St. Francis Yacht Club Perpetual Cup series sailed off San Francisco, he came in second, beating such impressive West Coast biggies as Kialoa, Merlin and Christine. He won line honors in the Astor Cup over Turner's Tenacious and the ultralight freak, Circus Maximus. Although both his personal problems and his stomach are more settled today, ocean racing is still not his bag. "Give me a fast boat and put me on a closed course and I am a very happy guy," he says. "Class boats are the cutting edge of the sport."
Long's maternal great grandfather was Richard Joshua Reynolds, the tobacco king. His great-great uncle was Richard Samuel Reynolds, founder of the metal concern that is well known in households for its Reynolds Wrap. With such a fiscal reservoir, Russ Long received a wellivied education. After primary years at St. Bernard's School in New York City, he prepped at St. George's in Middle-town, R.I., where he sailed competitively and captained the cross-country team. Like many another St. Georgian, he went on to Harvard, where he flunked out after one term, racking up the unusual academic score of two A's and two E's. Troubled by family differences, when he returned to New York, Long resolved to make his own way, taking any job in the classified ads that had even a fragrance of opportunity.