My latest piece for Ralph Lauren Magazine is on the golden age of sailing. By “golden age,” I mean, of course, the five or so years in the late ’80s and early ’90s when sailing captured the popular imagination, receiving its Hollywood exploitation via the 1992 film “Wind” with Matthew Modine and Jennifer Grey.
The story includes an interview with the usually media-shy legend Dennis Conner, who boasts a fascinating tale of defeat and redemption.
Founded in 1851 and most closely associated with the New York Yacht Club (whose Manhattan clubhouse is one of the city’s architectural gems), the America’s Cup was successfully defended by the US for an astonishing 132 years—still the longest winning streak in sports. That streak ended with Conner’s ignominious defeat in 1983. When redemption came in ’87, it was more than just a victory in sports—it was a patriotic moment befitting a decade that brought the Miracle on Ice and the end to the Cold War.
Conner was a veteran race captain when he took the helm of the Liberty in 1983 and the unthinkable happened. “They just had a faster boat,” Conner tells RL Mag in a rare exclusive interview. “Sometimes you can become so focused on winning that you don’t look at your competitors with an open mind. My competitor [the Australia II, from the Royal Perth Yacht Club] had the new innovation of wings on the keel, something I’d never heard of. I learned that it’s not good enough just to try hard and cover all your bases; that was the lesson I learned from the agony of defeat.”
The loss may have been the best thing that ever happened to the sport of competitive sailing, setting the stage for Conner’s redemptive win four years later. “When I lost the cup in ’83 I was crushed. It was the end of my world. I put the pillow over my head and didn’t know what was next,” he says. “When the chance came to come back from a devastating loss, I just tried to stop feeling sorry for myself and see what I could do about winning it back.”
(By the way, sailing is on my bucket list. I’ve started preparing by taking the New York Ferry.) — CC