I will forever be indebted to the sailing network (they know who they are) that sourced for me a signed copy, number 365, of the late, great Bob Fisher’s America’s Cup opus, An Absorbing Interest. And what a fascinating, absorbing read it is and as lasting legacies go, this is it. This is everything. As treasured possessions go, this is one of those life-long books that sits alongside the copy of ‘From Newport to Perth’ that is still ‘on loan’ from a school library, ‘Born to Win’ signed by JB and Skip Lissiman no less, ‘No Excuse to Lose’ and ‘Comeback’ both by DC.
Bob’s book however, is in another league. It’s utterly spectacular and over two lengthy volumes, it is full of the intrigue, history and side stories that makes the Cup such an endless fascination. The access that Bob had and the research that he undertook is breathtaking and despite only having the tomes for a few hours, already myths have been dispelled and untold knowledge gained. It’s a book to read over time, not to be rushed and will be an invaluable reference point forevermore. Bob’s inimitable style has been whipped into edit by the brilliant Stuart Alexander and between them they created a masterpiece that to me, is like owning a piece of art from one of the greats.
Bill Koch, the now 83 year old scion of the Koch Industries family provided the wherewithal and drive to complete this historical record and is paid due respect by Bob up front in the books where reference is made to Koch’s extensive model room in Palm Beach, Florida. I’ve seen photos of it before and my goodness it’s impressive. As Bob writes “His collection of models of the Cup contenders is second to none – they are all there, from the 17 that raced around the Isle of Wight in 1851 and the 18 off New York for the first challenge through the pair that raced in Auckland in 2003, all at three-eighths of an inch to the foot, mounted on the same water-plane, with their half models on the wall behind them.”
It’s the kind of room that I dream of wiling away a warm Palm Spring afternoon, savouring the history and admiring every tiny detail like a kid in a candy store. I imagine the model room at the New York Yacht Club has the same effect in an even more majestic setting but the sheer intimacy of Koch’s private collection is awe inspiring.
The intro to the book has a nugget of information that also piqued my interest. Rather than the usual blurb about the author being the World, European and National champion that he was, as well as winner of the Little America’s Cup in C-Class Catamarans which he could have easily shoe-horned in as perfect credentials and authority for writing the book, Bob went back to what brought him into the Cup: “Bob Fisher was born to the America’s Cup…raised on the foreshore at Brightlingsea, where the local watermen wore guernseys with the names of Shamrock and Endeavour emblazoned across their chests. It was from them that he first learned about the Cup – their experiences in various campaigns, going back to that of Shamrock III in 1903, enthralled him as he heard of their impressions of the treatment they had received.”
Fabulous. And it made me think back to my own first tastes of the Cup, seeing the images of Australia II winning on the BBC News as an 11 year old before keeping a folder of newspaper cut-outs and race write-ups (which I still have) of every race of the 1987 Challenger series and Match.
I wrote to all the syndicates in Perth as a wide-eyed 15 year-old, and was bowled over when the Kookaburra syndicate sent back some stickers and a pin badge with an encouraging letter. Amazing what a syndicate’s generosity can inspire and every morning I caught an earlier train to school to get into the library, cut out the America’s Cup reports in the Times and Telegraph (much to the school’s annoyance) and Pritt-stick them into a folder. This was long before the internet was a thing and as my own version of An Absorbing Interest, it’s something that I am most proud of to this day.
But Bob’s book is something else and what’s even more inspiring is that the third tome has been fully researched and Bob passed on the baton just before his passing to the esteemed journalist Barry Pickthall to complete from 2003 through to the present Cup. What a marvellous update that will be when it’s finished and what a great honour to continue his legacy. It’s a book that must be written and for the ultimate history of the America’s Cup to continue ad infinitum.
Thank you Bob. Thank you Stuart. Thank you Bill. I’ve got a lot of reading to do…