Oh, Freedom and the America's Cup

"Olin was in tears when he first saw the boat."For 132 years straight, the America's Cup was held in American hands, the longest winning streak in sports. The last successful defender of that tradition was a 12-Meter from a design firm that left an indelible mark on 20th century yachting, Sparkman & Stephens. The year was 1980, the boat was Freedom, and with Dennis
Author:
Publish date:

"Olin was in tears when he first saw the boat."

freedom_hero

For 132 years straight, the America's Cup was held in American hands, the longest winning streak in sports. The last successful defender of that tradition was a 12-Meter from a design firm that left an indelible mark on 20th century yachting, Sparkman & Stephens. The year was 1980, the boat was Freedom, and with Dennis Conner on the helm, Freedom defeated Australia four races to one.

Today, like so many other America's Cup yachts, Freedom is lovingly restored and actively sailed. But that is true only because Ernest Jacquet wanted Freedom, sought Freedom, and when he eventually found her—fallen on hard times—he argued long and hard to be allowed to buy her.

Here's his story: "In the early Nineties," Jacquet says, "I was sailing aboard Twelves in Edgartown [Massachusetts] and I asked Olin Stephens, what was his fastest Twelve Meter. He said, 'Freedom, but we don't know where she is.' I knew right then that I had to find her."

After a long search, Jacquet found Twelve Meter US 30 lying in a harbor in the Med, not far from Marseille. The boat was in bad shape, her dignity lost. "The hull was stove in," Jacquet says. "Someone had put a huge diesel in her, and a toilet, refrigeration, a windlass on the foredeck—"

And the owner was unwilling to sell. He had his boat and that was it. Enter Gabrielle Jacquet, the former sailing instructor at Edgartown Yacht Club and now a medical student. "The fellow clearly intended to hang onto the boat," Jacquet says, "so I took my daughter Gabrielle to France—she's a strong French speaker—and she entreated him to let us buy the boat and treat it as part of our national heritage. That was the pitch, and she got through to him on that level, and he let me buy the boat after I made a commitment to do a complete restoration."

Then, when Jacquet finally owned the boat, "I had to get her de-registered as a French vessel. That may sound easy, but don't think it is."

The Freedom story finally got to the good-news parts when it was time for the boat to return to the U.S. in 1999. Because it was Freedom, Jacquet got a break on shipping, "And some of the original crew were at New England Boat Works. They took very good care of us. So we got the boat home. Olin was in tears when he first saw the boat."

Then began a long, detailed restoration. Aided by advice from Stephens and with the original line drawings to work from, Freedom was faired to her proper lines and returned to the sailing condition of the 1980 America's Cup match. She was re-launched in May 2001 and spent the summer competing in Twelve Meter races out of Newport, Rhode Island.

"Newport is good because there are plenty of people who have 12-Meter experience," Jacquet says. "We were able to assemble a corinthian crew for the summer and then for the America's Cup Jubilee in the fall."

At the Jubilee, held in Cowes 100 years after the schooner America captured her famous prize there, Freedom was entered in the Modern 12s division where she had her troubles. "Every time we went out to practice, something broke. And we were an all-amateur crew. We weren't supposed to win. But we scored four firsts, one second and a third and wound up with six points to Intrepid's 13.

As Team New Zealand and Team Alinghi prepare to meet on the Hauraki Gulf to decide the future of the America's Cup, Freedom is being prepped for another summer of racing out of Newport. First, however, she will be towed along with Courageous, US26, to the Baltimore Water Festival. That's in April. Then Freedom and Courageous will visit Annapolis to continue their revival of the great defense-camp rivalry of 1980.

"Gary Jobson cooked up a rematch between the boats last year," Jacquet says. "I thought we'd just go out and leg around Red#2 or something like that, but Jobson brought in Turner, and that's not Turner's style. He brought in his old US26 crew and chartered the New York YC's committee boats and laid out a full America's Cup course. They even practiced, and I guess you can tell that I'm laying the groundwork for my excuses here, but I think we gave them some pretty close racing."

A satisfied Ernest Jacquet is pictured at left, in the center of the picture, with daughter Gabrielle and Freedom's designer Olin Stephens.

Jacquet today is an executive in a private equity investment firm, but he earned a masters degree in naval architecture from the University of Michigan along the way because, "To me, a boat is sculpture. It's about beauty."

Not only a naval architect, Jacquet understands the mechanics of boats from the inside out. During four years in the U.S. Navy, Jacquet was based in Guam as the diving officer for that part of the Pacific ("a great job") and made the time to build two Gardner ketches, one of which was for himself. When he was released from active duty in 1975, he sailed the boat to San Francisco.

In later years Jacquet lived in the UK, returned to California to study at Stanford, and later still found himself living in Massachusetts and crewing 12s out of Edgartown. Which returns us to our beginning, where on that fateful day he said, "Olin, what was your fastest Twelve?" KL

Related

albintoilet

Gear: Albin Pump Marine Toilet

Head Start Is there room for a new marine toilet? Albin Pump Marine thinks so, having just introduced its line of Swedish-built heads—ranging from compact to full-size models—to the American market. The toilets feature vitreous porcelain bowls and either wooden or thermoplastic ...read more

07n_45R2699

Multihull Sailor: Classic Cats

If you’re looking for a decent sub-40ft cruising cat, you have few choices when it comes to new-boat offerings. It is a well-known fact that the multihull market has taken off in a way very few could have predicted. Despite Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction of a large part of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Thanks a bunch  This scene is very calm and seamanlike. No frantic rope throwing or shouting. As he passes the line to the gent on the dock, the crew on the boat says, quietly and clearly, “Would you ...read more

mcarthy-and-mouse

Experience: McCarthy and the Mouse

Sitting at the helm in a light breeze, my arms crusted with a fine rime of salt, my skin so dry I’d lost my fingerprints, I heard a clatter and a curse from below. There were only three of us a thousand miles from shore and only one on watch at a time. Usually, the off watch lay ...read more

2018-giftGuide

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Brass Yacht Lamp Does someone on your gift list spend the whole winter missing the warm days on the water? Let them bring a little bit of nautical atmosphere home with this new lamp from Weems & Plath. The glass enclosure means the flame cannot be blown out even by ...read more

image001

Opinion: On Not Giving Up Sailing

E.B. White was 64 when he wrote his now-famous essay “The Sea and the Wind That Blows,” which begins as a romantic paean to sailing and then drifts, as if spun around by a pessimistic eddy of thought, into a reflection on selling his boat. Does an aging sailor quit while he’s ...read more

1812-JeanneaueNewsVideo

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 410

Designed by Marc Lombard, the Sun Odyssey 410 shares much in common with her older siblings including of course, the walk-around deck. Other features that set the 410 apart from other models being introduced this year include the 410’s “negative bow” shape allowing for a longer ...read more