In this edition of Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, two-time Olympic gold medalist Robertson sits down with America’s Cup Hall of Famer Tom Whidden as he recounts one of sailing’s most important eras. of competition.
After a childhood spent learning to sail the East Coast of the United States, a teenager Tom Whidden has made two bold statements. He would become a sailmaker and compete in the America’s Cup.
Decades later, he is still a central figure in sailing industry powerhouse North Sails, and he has featured in eight incredible America’s Cup campaigns, having won the illusory trophy on three occasions.
But in this fascinating conversation with Robertson, it’s Whidden’s recollections of Alan Bond’s historic 1983 loss to Australia II that are most telling.
Whidden partnered with Cup legend Dennis Connor for the 1980 Freedom Syndicate campaign and served as a tactician for the 1983 Defense, but it was a Defense that would finally see the end of the one hundred and thirty-two streak. consecutive victories of the New York Yacht Club. Unsurprisingly, Whidden’s memory of each race is near perfect, as he tells Robertson about the historic defeat….:
“I look back and I go, they’re about to tack, and the bow gets up, up, up and I say ‘they don’t tack’ and they get this big left shift huge and they’re going up, and slowly but surely they’re going away. They beat us by two minutes in that race. So now it’s the race of the century.
The ‘race of the century’ was of course that decisive match in the 1983 Cup, a match which Whidden and his team aboard the Liberty lost. It was the end of an era, Alan Bond’s Australia II finally snatching the Cup from the 132-year grip of the New York Yacht Club. But despite the implications of the famous loss, as Whidden reveals, there was still room for humor…
“We had a little house on the dock where the phone was, and I would walk down the dock and the phone would ring and I pick up the phone.
“Dennis is still on the boat at the time…and the voice on the other end says, ‘It’s the president, they’d like to talk to Dennis’, and I say, ‘Yeah yeah yeah’, and they say, ‘No, it’s really the president, it’s President Reagan. So I put it on speakerphone and I said, ‘Dennis Connor, Dennis Connor, you have a phone call, it’s the president and he wants to tell you that you screwed up!’
Whidden’s light and friendly style is wonderful to listen to, as he discusses his career as a sailor with a transfixed Robertson. There are plenty of Dennis Connor stories, including his “plastic boat” quote from the 1987 Challenger Series campaign, but of course Whidden is about much more than his America’s Cup campaigns.
For decades, he has been at the forefront of one of the industry’s premier corporate entities as the driving force behind new technologies at North Sails, where he currently serves as Executive Chairman.
Whidden discusses the growth of the company, the adoption of revolutionary new 3DL and 3Di production techniques, and the future of the company as it continues to develop navigation technologies.
The pair wrap up their discussion of the modern America’s Cup and Whidden’s position within the New York Yacht Club, as he discusses his thoughts on the new AC75s and American Magic’s position representing the Club as the Cup heads to Barcelona.
This edition of the podcast is in two parts:
Shirley Robertson OBE made history by becoming the first British woman to win Olympic gold medals in two consecutive Olympics. Shirley Robertson’s Sailing Podcast, produced and edited by Vertigo Films’ Tim Butt, can be listened to on her website or through popular podcast outlets including iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcast and aCast.