On Sunday, Ted Turner and 14 others were inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame at the San Diego Yacht Club. As long as you aren’t married to him or work for him, Ted Turner is an easy man to like — if, that is, you like people who live their lives out loud. Turner is an old-school yachtsman. He was sailing competitively at the Savannah Yacht Club when he was 12. He never won a club championship in eight years of effort and, frankly, I don’t care. Let’s skip ahead to the good part.
Turner made a run at the America’s Cup in 1974 as skipper of Mariner and Valiant. After Courageous (then captained by Ted Hood) won the Cup, Turner did a very Ted Turner thing: he bought the boat. Courageous was believed to be second shelf at the time. Hood built a new, faster boat and sold his left-behind to the Savannah Yacht Club kid.
Turner subsequently skippered Courageous to an America’s Cup victory in 1977. He made another run at it in 1980 but failed to reach the finals.
He is a real sailor, has sailed in hundreds of races all over the world. He is also a four-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year winner. Said award is given for “outstanding on-the-water achievement within the calendar year.” Turner is the last amateur to win the America’s Cup.
The current America’s Cup holder is Larry Ellison, of Oracle software, who won the Cup in February 2010. It is an America’s Cup series now known as Battle of Two Filthy Rich White Guys. According to Forbes Magazine, Ellison is the sixth richest man in the world. So, you can imagine Ellison’s humiliation when the 52nd richest person in the world (Ernesto Bertarelli) won America’s Cup in 2003 and then defended it successfully in 2007.
Now, the sixth richest man in the world (Larry Ellison) had spent at least 400 million of his dollars trying to win the Cup. And here’s this punk-ass 52nd richest man in the world winning the 26-inch-high slab of silver-plated metal — twice.
And now comes America’s Cup 2010. How do the 6th and 52nd richest men in the world prepare for round three? You guessed it, they sue each other. One lawsuit was being considered in the New York Supreme Court just before racing was set to begin. Ellison claimed the 52nd richest man had an illegal boat because its sails were not made in Switzerland, the country of record for the defending title holder. The 52nd richest guy argued that the governing document merely said that the “yacht or vessel” had to be constructed in the country of the club holding the Cup. Sails, hell, they can be made anywhere.
Everything got so petty, so litigious, that a good part of humanity was seized with nausea when hearing the words, “America’s Cup.” No one knew whether a court in the U.S., Switzerland, Spain, or Swaziland would halt the race, so no American network, from NBC to QVC to Telemundo to Syfy, carried the race live. In terms of media world, the 2010 America’s Cup was run off-planet. Eventually, word filtered back to the home world that the 6th richest guy won. Which is a long, long way from Ted Turner captaining his own yacht and winning the Cup.
“I’m the only man on the planet ever to fly on Cuba’s Air Force One with their president and on America’s Air Force One with our president,” Turner said during a 1986 interview with Sports Illustrated. Turner bragged to his mother that he was $2 billion in debt. “No individual in history has ever owed more. That’s a million dollars a day in interest.”
He was, until recently, the largest private land owner in the United States — 2,000,000 acres. Hey, you need a lot of land to feed 50,000 buffalo. He pledged $1 billion to the United Nations Foundation and, so far, has delivered $600,000,000. But, here’s the punch line. Shortly after Turner quit racing, Bob Wussler, former president of CBS and cofounder of CNN, was quoted in a 1986 Sports Illustrated article as saying Turner told him, “I never really enjoyed sailing that much.”
And now for the double back-flip.
From Yachtracing.biz, October 3, 2011: “So it seemed only fitting that this year, when all the talk has been about reinvigorating the America’s Cup, that Turner should return to Newport for the 2011 12-Meter North American Championships. The 72-year-old sailor didn’t just make a token appearance at the event, though — he actually won the traditional division aboard American Eagle, a 12-meter Turner once owned himself.”
Keep them guessing, Ted.