To Be Courageous

Yachting covers Ted Turner’s surprise path to victory in the 1977 America’s Cup.

The 45-knot foiling catamarans of today are a far cry from the 12-Meter yachts that raced for the 23rd America’s Cup in 1977. That year, Courageous and her skipper, Ted Turner, defended the United States against a challenge by team Australia and skipper Noel Robins. Sailing in the historic racing harbor at Newport, Rhode Island, the road to the Cup was lined with months of competition. From the event’s summerlong preliminary trials to the fall finals, Yachting was there to cover all the action.

America's Cup
Turner goes 10-1.Zach Stovall

Yachting >   August >   1977

Everybody loves an underdog, and that's what Turner was as our August 1977 issue went to press. In the America's Cup preliminary defender trials, Turner's competition included Ted Hood, Courageous' skipper when she won the Cup in 1974, now sailing his new 12-Meter, Independence. A third competitor was Olympic gold medalist Lowell North skippering Enterprise.

In 1974, Turner had skippered Mariner and ended up with the worst record of any helmsman in Newport. But this time, the storied sailing town told a different tale. Turner and Courageous came out of the prelims with a 10-1 record. As Yachting wrote, Turner had proved himself "most effective in the role of an underdog face-to-face with adversity — adversity usually being another skipper in another boat."

America's Cup
September 1977’s America’s Cup coverage.Zach Stovall

Yachting >   September >   1977

Midrace on the last day of observation trials, it seemed that Enterprise would be the favorite heading into the final trials, Yachting reported. However, the end of that race would conclude differently.

America's Cup
In our September 1977 issue, Yachting showcased a map of the Newport course and a photo of the America’s Cup Committee.Zach Stovall

It was Enterprise vs. Courageous. Enterprise had long held a lead, and it looked like she was a shoo-in as the yachts rounded the buoy on the last leg. But "Turner, always a fighter, was not giving up." Tacking duels and a favorable wind lift occurred. The vessels crossed the finish line 43 seconds apart — with Courageous in the lead.

No contender was out of the running. Enterprise was fast, but questionable on tactics; Independence was the underdog, but with encouraging new sails; and Turner, "the yeast in the brew, adding that spark of seat-of-the-pants approach to tactics and a battling spirit."

Yachting >   October >   1977

The results were in: Yachting reported Ted Turner in Courageous and Noel Robins in Australia as the survivors of elimination trials, selected to compete against one another in the America's Cup match.

Courageous had come out strong for the final trials, losing only once to ­Independence. Both Independence and ­Enterprise had made desperate crew changes toward the end, but the Hail Marys weren't enough to impede Courageous' victory.

Australia had swept foreign eliminations, winning 4-0 against Sweden's Sverige. Sverige had lost big leads two times, and twice went into the hole at the start for being over the line early. Unfortunate occurrences or not, Australia sealed her place as the 1977 America's Cup Challenger.

America's Cup
Turner seals another win for America.Zach Stovall

Yachting >   November >   1977

Turner and his crew were said to be the best 12-Meter crew ever assembled. No wonder Courageous won the 23rd America's Cup with a 4-0 record over Australia.

Australia was never able to gain a palpable lead nor get close enough to ­Courageous to force boat-to-boat dueling. It had been said Australia needed more than 10 knots of wind to compete. She had 15 in the final; Courageous still had the race clinched in about 5 minutes.

Turner was the sole source of excitement during all the racing. As the well-known, feisty owner of the Atlanta Braves, he walked the Newport docks as a celebrity, signing autographs, getting kissed and constantly receiving cheers. He took it well, “waving his ever-present cigar and doffing his trademark, a striped engineer’s cap, while joyously answering the cheers with his favorite cry of ‘Awriiight!’ at the top of his lungs."