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Congressional Cup Has Hero on Board : Australia II's Colin Beashel Saved a Fellow Crew Member's Life in 1983

March 12, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

The spirit that uprooted the America's Cup after 132 years and transplanted it half a world away comes through in a passage of the book written by Australia II's skipper, John Bertrand.

The incident occurred before a preliminary race against Canada. With a strong wind blowing, the bow man, Scotty McAllister, was at the top of the mast, 90 feet above the deck, trying to clear a jammed halyard when the gear collapsed and broke his left arm.

"Then he blacked out and suddenly we all realized what had happened as we saw his head slump forward," Bertrand wrote in "Born to Win."

"Conditions up there were just terrible, the mast was swaying uncontrollably, and Scotty was held close to it mainly by his broken arm. . . . I hated to ask anyone else to go up, but Colin Beashel, with immense heroism, stepped forward immediately and said, 'Hitch me up. I'll go get him.' "

Nearly three years later, that incident is little more than a footnote to the Australians' success in the summer of '83. Beashel himself says: "It was a bit scary. Scotty was like a puppet on the end of a stick. But I'm sure there were a lot of other guys that would have gone up there."

Not if any of them thought twice about it. Going up the mast of a 12-meter at the dock is guaranteed vertigo. In heavy seas it becomes an invitation to disaster.

Happily, Colin and McAllister both landed safely, and Beashel (pronounced Bay- shell) has returned to 12-meter competition at the helm of Australia III in the Alan Bond syndicate's campaign to defend the cup.

Bertrand has retired and Beashel, his former mainsheet trimmer, won the 12-meter world championship last month in fleet racing at Perth, site of the America's Cup sailing starting next October.

A victory in the Australian Cup match-racing series qualified Beashel, 26, to compete in the 22nd Congressional Cup off Long Beach this week, sailing against nine other skippers, five of whom also have America's Cup ambitions. The four days of round-robin match racing will start today.

Unlike the Americans before '83, the Aussies aren't taking the America's Cup for granted.

"One thing we've got going for us at the moment is that we've only had it for three years, not 132," Beashel said. "There's not a lot of history built up in it. There's enough pressure on us just becoming the defender."

Australia has three other syndicates planning to compete in the defender trials, although an under-financed Sydney group may soon drop out.

The Australians' advantage of sailing in the blustery Indian Ocean may have been evident in the 12-meter worlds when Australia III won and Australia II placed fourth.

But the Aussies sense that the Americans will be coming in force.

"Americans do have a lot of strong national pride, and we're sure that they're determined to come out and get it back," Beashel said. "But after the last America's Cup, I think Australia is developing, as a young country, a lot of national pride, also. I think we're just as determined to keep it.

"Our facilities may be smaller on the research side of it, but I think the results will be the same."

Besides, Beashel pointed out, there is no guarantee an American syndicate will even reach the final.

"There are a lot of countries pouring a lot more money than they ever have before into the development of boats," he said. "Then it comes down to the time on the water and the time spent doing hard racing, which is just as important. If you can't sail it right, you might as well have a slow boat. I think our crew work is a little bit above most of the others right now."

Said Beashel of the '83 campaign: "It was a unique situation, a group of people coming together to do a job, and determined in what they were going to do. Then it happened, and a lot of guys just wanted to go back to their house and their own little lives.

"We had a mutual understanding that we'd all come back together in a year or so and see if we wanted to (do it again). That was about a year ago.

"I told (syndicate manager) Warren Jones, 'I don't know who you're gonna get to steer, but I'd like to have a go.' They've given me the chance, and they're still trying to work out who is going to do it."

Gordon Lucas has been steering Australia II, but Beashel has an extra incentive: If he's at the helm, he won't have to climb the mast again.

Beashel actually went up twice in '83, the second time to secure the headboard of the mainsail after it had broken loose in the second of seven races against Dennis Conner's Liberty in the final round. He spent two legs of the race swaying from the top that time, but his rescue of McAllister remains most memorable, even though he shrugs off Bertrand's suggestion of heroism.

"I move around a boat pretty easily," Beashel said. "I've been on them since I was 2 years old."

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