Ted Turner and the Cal 40

Tacoma Mud Flats

Have star, will steer by
Blast from the past...

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THE MEANEST VAMP AT SEA
By HUGH WHALL
It was almost as if someone fresh off a motor scooter had dropped in on his friendly neighborhood Buick dealer, bought a car off the showroom floor and then proceeded to win a driving championship from the best drivers and the fanciest custom cars on the racing circuit. In this case, the hypothetical Buick was a stock fiber-glass Cal-40 sailboat, the kind anyone could buy tomorrow by writing a check for $27,500. The driver was a 27-year-old small-boat sailor from Atlanta named Ted Turner, and his championship was earned against some of the top blue-water skippers of the U.S. in the annual Southern Ocean Racing Conference.
"She's just an ol' stocker," says Ted of his swift Vamp X. "I gave her that name after Hardhearted Hannah, the vamp of Savannah, the meanest gal in town, 'cause this ol' boat's like any hardhearted woman that'll freeze ya and kill ya." But if anyone had the right to think of Vamp X as a hardhearted woman it was less Turner than the veteran skippers of Ondine, Indigo, Doubloon, Dyna and the other grandly expensive craft he had beaten.
Of course, even though Vamp was a stocker, no boat, outside of a strictly supervised one-design class, ever stays just like another for very long. Turner had dressed his in the finest Hood sails, added bigger water tanks and beefed up her rigging so that her handicap rating worked out a 10th of a foot higher than the other Cal-40 in the race, Otseketa. There were no intricate mathematical considerations behind Turner's decision to buy Vamp. "I bought her," he says, "because I didn't know what else to get. I figured I could always unload her if she didn't do anything. Actually," Turner adds, "I don't think she's that much better than the others"—which may be his way of saying that it was the skill of skipper and crew as much as boat and rigging that won the championship.
A husky 6 feet 2, Skipper Turner drives himself as hard as anyone on board his boat. A round-the-buoys sailor who was once North American Flying Dutchman champion, he had only one year's ocean-racing experience before buying Vamp last November. That was aboard a chartered boat. Often courtly in the old tradition of the South, but sometimes as blatant as the roadside bill-boards he rents as an advertising man, Turner is not one to underplay his sudden triumph in ocean racing. "Ol' Atlanta's a major league town," he said after the last race. "We got major league football, and maybe major league baseball, so why not major league ocean racing? There's the Chicago Yacht Club, the Boston Yacht Club, the New York Yacht Club. Now there's gonna be the Atlanta Yacht Club."
Turner was taught to sail in a 12-foot Penguin by Cap'n Jimmy Brown, a Negro and an old family retainer. Brown still sails with Turner in the capacity of ship's cook. "We eat better than anyone afloat," says Turner. "Cap'n Jimmy's an epicurean chef who'll turn out lobster Newburg, Kansas City strips and two kinds of salad, including Caesar, in a 35-knot gust." The rest of Vamp's crew are small-boat sailors, who work Vamp as though she were a 14-footer. No matter how unpalatable the job, there is never any hesitation about reefing or changing headsails, and Turner insists it must be done in under a minute. On less competitive boats crewmen spend the long, cool night watches huddled in the cockpit out of the wind and spray. Turner's crew stays up on the weather rail in the drenching darkness where their weight will do the most good. If hanging a man from the top of the mast with an anchor around his neck would encourage Vamp to go faster, a man would be up there—voluntarily.
Not all crewmen have successfully survived Turner's driving ambition. One man who quit Turner by mutual consent halfway through the SORC was an experienced racing skipper with many offshore races to his credit. That failed to impress Turner, who said, "I didn't care about how many races he's sailed. What I cared about was: Did he win?" For Turner and his young crew (average age about 30), the SORC itself is merely a tune-up for the more ambitious races ahead: the Bermuda race in June and next summer's 3,600-mile grind to Denmark. "I always wanted to see Europe," muses Turner, "and this seems like a good way of doing it."
The single race that has come to symbolize the whole SORC, and one heavily weighted in the point system, is the 184-mile Miami-Nassau. Even with wins in the St. Petersburg-Fort Lauderdale and the 30-mile Lipton Cup affair off Miami, Vamp had to do well in this race if she were to win the title.
As races go, the Miami-Nassau was a pleasure cruise. A huge high-pressure cell lay like an umbrella over the entire course, bringing cool breezes that ranged from northwest to northeast, breezes that never got over 25 knots and allowed the fleet to stay on a single tack the whole way. Shortly after the start the milky green water that marks the Florida shoreline suddenly became the deep, white-flecked blue of the Gulf Stream. Flying fish fled before the plunging bows, and that night a huge moon made a perfect guide for helmsmen and sail-trimmers. It was the sort of race that lulls the lazy into simply sitting and going. But on Vamp X, on the phenomenal Class B Doubloon, which has never finished out of the Miami-Nassau money, and aboard a little stock Columbia 40 named Geechee, the temptation to relax was successfully resisted. As the fleet, led by Escapade (under charter to Robert Way), rounded the last prominent mark, Stirrup Cay, some 50 miles from the finish, the wind freed enough so that spinnakers could be set for the first time. Up they went, and for the remainder of the race the course reverberated with the sound of cloudlike spinnakers collapsing in claps of thunder, then filling again with explosive cracks. A witness aboard the boat ahead kept his eye on Vamp and said afterward that her helmsmen were so proficient that her spinnaker collapsed only one-fifth as often as those of the other boats.
Big Escapade finished first and broke the course record by nearly three minutes doing it. Doubloon won Class B and took second over-all, but Vamp's. fifth-place finish was enough to keep her title safe. The other stock boat, Geechee—ironically, also from Georgia and skippered by John Baker, a friend of Turner's—was Class C and overall winner. "How about that?" said Turner. "We're just a couple of dumb Georgians who don't know nothing about this ocean-racing business, but look what we did."
A few days later Turner took Vamp out in a blustery breeze off Nassau and piled up enough points to win the championship 57 points ahead of the next best boat, Indigo. "Man, if we'd been around in the Civil War," said Crewman Jim Markley, "we'd have cracked that ol' blockade."

Courtesy, Sports Illustrated
MARCH 28, 1966
 

Israel Hands

Super Anarchist
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What I remember from his autobiography was that Ted "leased" his first couple of boats for the racing season. Then put them through an absolute beating during transport and races.
 

nolatom

Super Anarchist
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The Mouth of the South. Who'd have pictured him going to Brown University up in New England, and those horrible little Beverly Dinghies?

Living proof of, "It ain't braggin' if you can do it".
 

BayRacer

Anarchist
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My grandfather had a Columbia 40 on the Great Lakes when I was growing up. They were in the '70 Mac race that Turner recanted his opinion on Great Lakes sailing conditions, finishing 2nd or 3rd in class if I recall correctly.

Earlier this week, a bunch of us were rehashing some of the late 70's/80's heydays (that was when I started) of IOR and move to MHS/IMS and filling in some of the younger ones on the history, and Turner was brought up. It was suggested he was the Elon Musk of the '70's.
 

SloopJonB

Super Anarchist
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More like the 80's - starting CNN was what made his name a household word - previously he was known more as a sailor and owning the Atlanta Braves than for business.

Smart businessman - depending on who you listen to, he either inherited $1 mil or he inherited a bunch of debt and a failing ad business.

Either way he is a real self made billionaire and surprisingly lefty for a southern businessman.
 

Talchotali

Capt. Marvel's Wise Friend
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Either way he is a real self made billionaire and surprisingly lefty for a southern businessman.
His autobiographical audio book (self-narrated) "Call Me Ted" is entertaining and worth a listen. He walks you through his sailing, advertising, cable TV careers, and wives/philanthropy without much self aggrandizing. Just a Savannah boy at heart from a place where that means something.
 
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SloopJonB

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My favourite Terrible Ted story was told in the Courageous days. The NYYC knew they needed him to win and that meant membership for him.

They held their snooty noses and voted him in.

Someone who attended a subsequent banquet with him said he said, in reference to the bejewelled and gowned members wives, "What some of these stiff old babes need is a good hard fucking".
 
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Good stuff.

I didn't realize he was in such bad shape, kinda sad. Definitely one of those energetic characters that made a lot of things happen and in his own weird way also seemed to have good values. I can't recall/find the little statement he gave when he sold off the network television business. Then of course the bits about racing Ostrich's around the baseball field in Atlanta. And of course the hilarious book I think was like "America's Cup and the History of Unsportmanslike Conduct".

I sailed on Atalanta ~1992 in Hawaii for what was then the Kenwood Cup. It was an eye opener for me on big boat management (I was just starboard snakepit/trimmer, but still). Ended up on a little Catalina 30 (or something like that) with a guy that had done the delivery for Atalanta home to the East Coast 'back in the day' when they had lost the main rudder. Small crew, wild stories, good times. Meanwhile, as my grandmother used to say when complaining about her arthritis and I would ask "Would you like to be young again?". The answer was consistently, for my body yes, but not if I had to give up and start over with everything I have learned in life. :)
 

longy

Overlord of Anarchy
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Watching Atalanta go by us upwind in Hawaii was like watching a cruise ship go by - acres of white topsides & lots of portholes.
 

accnick

Super Anarchist
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The Mouth of the South. Who'd have pictured him going to Brown University up in New England, and those horrible little Beverly Dinghies?

Living proof of, "It ain't braggin' if you can do it".
I think Brown Sailing had Tech dinghies then, but I could be wrong. That was a few years before my time there.
 

accnick

Super Anarchist
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By some miracle, I managed to get a great education at the university you refer to as the basement of the Ivy League. And despite the handicap of that second-rate education, I had a reasonably successful career built largely around the sailing industry.

Yes, I graduated (1969), and no, I didn’t sail with you on Bolero. But five years out of Brown, I did own a 50’ wooden yawl.
 

Israel Hands

Super Anarchist
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coastal NC
My favourite Terrible Ted story was told in the Courageous days. The NYYC knew they needed him to win and that meant membership for him.

They held their snooty noses and voted him in.

Someone who attended a subsequent banquet with him said he said, in reference to the bejewelled and gowned members wives, "What some of these stiff old babes need is a good hard fucking".
A good measure of his business success came from his salesmanship. (And some of the greatest salesmen have been bipolar.) I think it was in Call Me Ted that a colleague recalled him going into a meeting of powerful people he didn't know, with low odds of success...and dropping to his hands and knees he climbed under the conference table, asking "Whose shoes do I have to kiss to get this deal done?"
 




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