This article focuses on the 1978 event, raced in Two Tonners, and which is most remembered for an epic battle between the challenger, Don Green’s radical Cuthbertson & Cassian (C&C) design Evergreen, and the defender, Terry Kohler's Holland design Agape for the US. Green had raced two previous C&C yachts before opting for something more adventurous, and deciding to mount a Canada’s Cup campaign. He commissioned C&C to build a flat-out racing machine, and gave the designers carte blanche to make it happen. The resulting yacht took advantage of every loophole under the IOR, and the stability rule in particular – Evergreen's lightweight carbon fibre and epoxy honeycomb hull weighed approximately 5,500 pounds, and allowed for some 10,000 pounds of ballast to achieve her measured displacement. A centreboard still retained some un-penalised advantages under the IOR, so this ballast was mostly internal, fitted in a ballast plate in the centre of the boat. The 500 pound centreboard was fitted in an angled case, so that it pierced the deck for’ard of the mast.
|Evergreen during the 1978 SORC|
Evergreen's structure was augmented by longitudinal bulkheads, which in combination with the centreboard case, made the interior almost unliveable. Her interior was accessed by two flush hatches located close to her rails, and opened inward to aid with sail handling – a dubious proposition from a safety viewpoint. She had an open cockpit, and featured a central control panel for the myriad hydraulic switches to control her fragile, three-spreader five panel mast. The rig and hydraulic systems were designed and built by Tim Stearn, who was also to be the yacht’s helmsman. However, because of Canada’s Cup nationality rules, Green himself took over principal helming duties, with Stearn filling the tactician role.
Agape was a development of the highly successful Imp, and also of a high-tech construction, utilising carbon-reinforced fibreglass, with a Bergstrom/Kiwi load carrying aluminium spaceframe as pioneered by Holland with Imp, and the Half Tonner Business Machine. Agape's Bergstrom and Ridder mast featured swept spreaders, something of a departure from the norm for a masthead rig. Unlike Imp, she started life as a centreboarder, but was progressively modified during the summer and became a keeler, and Kohler described the boat that raced against Evergreen as Agape #5.
|Evergreen powers upwind (photo Sharon Green)|
|Evergreen was not an easy boat to handle|
Some changes were made to Evergreen before the Canada’s Cup trials, with her full-ish bow sections being replaced by a longer and finer entry and her stern sections were narrowed. She was given a new centreboard, and her rig was increased in height by two feet, raising her rating from 31.5ft in the SORC to the Two Ton limit of 32.0ft for the Canada’s Cup. Notwithstanding that her existing hatch arrangement was already of questionable safety, she she was given two additional inward opening hatches in the bow to facilitate more efficient genoa and spinnaker handling. This gave the overall deck layout something of a ‘swiss cheese’ appearance.
|Agape chases Evergreen downwind during the 1978 Canada's Cup|
The changes yielded some improvement, however, and Evergreen, representing the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club, saw off other would-be challengers Mia VI, a Kaufman-designed centreboarder, and an older Frers design Impetus to earn the right to challenge the US for the Cup, not held by Canada since losing it in the 1972 series. Agape had a tough fight for selection as the defender against another Kaufman designed centreboarder Black Majic, and the two year old Peterson design Sassy Lee.
The two yachts would go on to engage in the stormiest, most bitterly contested match to date. There were more protests lodged in the 1978 series (seven) than in the entire history of the Canada’s Cup.
|Spinnakers and shooters flying, Evergreen pursues Agape|
|Evergreen leads Agape|
If the concept of a 75 mile match race seems odd today, then the next race was unbelievable - being a course of some 250 mile distance race on Lake Huron. This race started after a break of two days for repairs. Evergreen was the early leader as the boats ran up the lake in a moderate breeze. She had a substantial lead by the time they reached the first mark, some 40 miles away. However, the mark boat was out of position by five or six miles, and when it finally appeared out of the patchy fog and rain, it was Agape who had a better angle to the mark, and she rounded ahead. A midnight-to-dawn spinnaker duel later ensued, with poles on the headstays and both boats wiping out repeatedly, but Evergreen emerged the leader, sneaking around the third mark, off Port Huron, just 13 seconds ahead. But it was all to no avail, however, when a chainplate on Evergreen broke several hours later in an increasing breeze and her mast went overboard. Evergreen's protest that the out-of-position mark had prejudiced her first position was disallowed, but she was granted another two days for repairs.
By this stage, Agape led the series 3-2 as a result of Evergreen’s faults and defaults, and she needed just one win to retain the Cup for the US (the record is not clear but the history suggests that the long distance race may have counted for two points).
|Evergreen sails over the top of Agape on a reaching leg during the 1978 Canada's Cup|
With her new mast, Evergreen crossed the startline of the next race early, and it was Agape’s race until Evergreen rolled her on the second spinnaker reach and went on to win by 57 seconds. Protest flags were flying from both boats as they finished, and the resulting four protests meant that the jury had a marathon overnight sitting before dismissing all of them. The final race, on the 12th day of the series, was a repeat of the fifth race, with Agape winning the start, staying ahead on the beat and first reach, only to see Evergreen power over her on the second reach. Another protest, this time by Agape, was disallowed, but meant the victory celebrations for the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club – long awaited at the time – could not start until midnight. The story of Evergreen’s victory is covered in more detail in a book by Doug Hunter – "Against the Odds".
|From the cover of 'Against the Odds', the story of Evergreen's challenge for the 1978 Canada's Cup|
Evergreen and her fellow competitors then found themselves in the middle of the deadliest ocean race in history, the 1979 Fastnet, where they were struck by an unpredicted and very fierce storm. In the end, 15 lives and 30 boats were lost, and it is remarkable that Evergreen survived relatively intact given her reputation for gear failures and her controversial deck hatch arrangement. Evergreen retired from the race safely, and Green later credited his crew’s preparedness for their fortunate survival, and he recounted that “it was a terrifying experience where every wave brought with it the fear that it was the one that would be your last”.
Green had decided to call it quits just as the seas were growing ugly and confused. He threw the stern to the wind and made for the coast of England. The pitch black fury of the North Atlantic storm with Force 10 to 12 winds was upon them. "(The race) was the most traumatic experience of my life... It was earth-shaking. Every 60 seconds you'd get hit by those seas and you'd just wonder how much you can take."
|The Evergreen crew for the 1979 Admiral's Cup - from left: Hans Fogh, Alan Jeyes, Jim Talmage, Brian Downey, Al Megarry, John Fitzpatrick, Steve Killing, Don Green, Rob Ball|
The Canadian team finished the Admiral's Cup 18th of 19 teams, and Evergreen finished a lowly 55th in the individual standings (in the 57 boat fleet).