My course to the Cup

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In the summer of 1983, as a young journalist at the Newport (R.I.) Daily News, I was assigned to cover the America’s Cup races. I knew nothing about sailing or the America’s Cup, but it sounded a lot better than covering town hall meetings.

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As the racing unfolded, it became the story of the summer, with secret keels under wraps and the United States at risk to lose the venerable trophy for the first time in its then 132-year dominance. The series went down to the wire, and on Sept. 26, the longest winning streak in sports was over. The Australians took the trophy Down Under.

I covered the Aussie dock that day, and as the skirts around Australia II dropped to unveil the winged keel, I vowed I would somehow get to Australia to cover the team’s defense. I was officially bitten by the Cup bug.

I set about sailing at every chance I could, which wasn’t too difficult in Newport, and started looking for a job where I could blend journalism with my newfound love of sailing and the Cup. I found that perfect combination at Soundings in 1984. I moved to Essex, Conn., and was blown away when there on the copywriting team was Betsy Whidden, wife of Cup legend Tom Whidden, Dennis Conner’s tactician.

I had a range of assignments at Soundings, from writing about local boatbuilders to the professional sailors on the international racing circuits to the single-handed ’round the world racers. As the 1987 Cup races in Fremantle approached, I knew I had to find a way to get there. With the help of Soundings senior editor Charlie “Chucky B” Barthold, we hatched a plan for me to cover the BOC race stopover in Sydney and carry on to Fremantle, where I would do some freelance writing for my former newspaper, as Soundings already had a reporter on the Cup beat.

Conner and Co. won the Cup back for the States, and it was time for the Auld Mug to come home. But as the winners debated where to stage the defense, a renegade “big boat” challenge came along from Michael Fay and the New Zealanders. The Cup was full of intrigue again as it went into extensive court battles. When a judge finally ordered the teams to fight it out on the water, I was sent to San Diego to cover Fay’s monohull versus Conner’s catamaran. The home team was victorious, and Soundings was noted by USA Today as having the best Cup coverage “both on and off the water.”

These exciting assignments aside, I was fortunate to have some of the most wonderful colleagues of my career during this time. Everyone worked hard and played hard. We were all in our 20s when we arrived in this charming New England town on the Connecticut River, and we were always ready for a good time. There was Kenny “Wooty” Wooton, former editor of Boating and Yachting magazines and now editor of Yachts International; Donna Caruso, whom I survived hurricane Gloria with, as well as many margaritas at the local water hole Cuckoo’s Nest; and editors Art Henick and Marleah Ross, who taught me a lot about the art of writing. And what would Soundings have been without Patty “Coconut” Koller and Bill Sisson, now Soundings editor-in-chief. Then there is my music mate, Michael LaBella (now senior editor), who turned up at Soundings in tie-dye and rekindled my love affair with the Grateful Dead … still going strong.

Founder and publisher Jack Turner always was a bit philosophical. When someone was upset about something, he would say, “Do you think it will really matter 20 years from now?”

We composed our stories on IBM typewriters and had to take our own photos. Twice I scored the cover — both still hang framed on the wall of Mom’s home in New Jersey — but sometimes it was a disaster. At the finish of a BOC race in Newport, I was so busy shooting away that I popped an already-shot roll of film back into the camera and double-exposed what would have been terrific photos.

While I was enjoying those fabulous years at Soundings, I still had a serious case of America’s Cup fever. With the action again heating up in San Diego, I called Tom Ehman, the general manager of the organizing committee for the 1992 America’s Cup. I told him I wanted to try “the other side” and work in Cup public relations. Tom invited me to San Diego to interview for a media relations job, and the rest is history.

The upcoming 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco will be my 10th: three as a journalist and the past seven in some sort of PR/communications capacity for either the event or one of the teams, including 2010 winner Oracle Racing, the current defender. This passion has taken me overseas, living for 12 years in New Zealand and Spain. I am now in San Francisco, where I head up the live entertainment program for the America’s Cup. One of the former Grateful Dead members, Mickey Hart, serves on our Arts and Entertainment Committee. I never would have dreamed this was possible looking out my Soundings window at the Connecticut River. Did it really matter 20 years ago? Yes, Jack, it certainly did.

Jane Eagleson was a staff writer and sailracing editor for Soundings from 1984 to 1990.

September 2013 issue