HOW WALTER CRONKITE GOT HOOKED ON SAILING
It all began at the 1962 America’s Cup race in Newport, Rhode Island
Written by Lew Wood. Last updated Thursday September 3rd, 2009
By LEW WOOD
The year 1962 was the height of the Kennedy era...Camelot!
I was then a field producer on the weekly CBS documentary “Eyewitness,” produced by Les Midgley, anchored by Charles Collingwood, and directed by Don Hewitt. An earlier anchor was Walter Cronkite. Many of the Eyewitness episodes focused on President Kennedy’s trips and meetings with world leaders, as well as other newsworthy events. Jack Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier had been married at Hammersmith Farm in ultra-exclusive Newport, Rhode Island.
THE ARCTURUS UNDER SAIL ON LONG ISLAND SOUND
In September of 1962, the America’s Cup Race was to be held off Newport in Rhode Island Sound. The challenger was “Gretel,” a twelve-meter sloop owned by Sir Frank Packer, a media mogul in Australia. Its skipper was Jock Sturrock. The American twelve-meter chosen to defend the Cup for the New York Yacht Club was “Weatherly” captained by Bus Mossbacher. The America’s Cup defenders in those days were wooden twelve-meter sloops, about 60 feet long, built at Minneford’s Yacht Yard in City Island, NY.
Because of the fascination with the Kennedys and the race, CBS Producer Midgely conceived a scenario that combined those attractions, with a look at picturesque Newport and its famous “400” families - including the Vanderbilts and their mansions - and pegged to the America’s Cup Race.
Since Les knew I was interested in sailing, I got the assignment. I owned and lived aboard a 52-foot ketch for about 12 years, mostly in Ft. Lauderdale, with my wife and small daughter. We had great sails on the Arcturus (above). We sailed up and down the Atlantic a couple of times, and to the Bahamas a few. Sadly, I sold the boat after those joyous years and miss the hell out of that life!
My CBS News film crew and I traveled to Newport prepared to spend a week prior to the yacht race filming preparations and whatever close scenes we could get of the yachts, and hopefully some interviews with the crews. We also filmed the local color in and around Newport, including the mansions of the rich and famous.
We filmed the sleek yachts as they were towed out to the practice course. Usually, we were prevented from filming them when they were hauled out of the water, because of secret design characteristics of their keels and underbody, or so they claimed.
We also tried to film and interview the skippers and crew of each boat and the large estates where they were quartered, but again with little luck. However, we got lucky with the Australian crew, for most of them loved their beer and frequented a bar on the Newport waterfront.
In 1962, there was no bridge between Jamestown and Newport so it was necessary to take a ferry across. Also, Newport then only had one really decent hotel, and it was already booked for the entire race period. However, I located a large rooming house for rent, operated by a sweet little old lady, and we were quite comfortable with our lodgings.
Cronkite by that time had replaced Douglas Edwards on the CBS Evening News and Don Hewitt became his director. At one time Walter had enjoyed racing sports cars, but his doctor advised him that his heart might not take such stress any longer. So he began to develop an interest in sailing. Cronkite’s New York office told me that he wanted to come up to Newport to watch the initial America’s Cup Race.
The first race was to be held on a Saturday and Walter and his director, Vinny Walters, drove from New York after the news on Friday night. I met them at the Newport side of the ferry, got them lodging in our rooming house, and provided press passes for them for the next day to go on the press boat to watch the race. It was a beautiful day, a great race, and Weatherly won that day. Walter enjoyed the spectacle tremendously.
Only a year or two later, Walter bought a 22-foot Electra sloop and took up sailing on Long Island Sound. He later acquired a 28-foot Triton sloop, then a double-ender he named Wyntje. Not many years later he had a magnificent yacht built to his well-formed personal specifications and sailed it extensively.
Since I was already a seasoned sailor, I like to lay claim that “Lew Wood helped get Walter Cronkite into sailing!” Many years later, whenever I would happen to run into my friend Walter in New York at a bar or an airport, we would always talk sailing, never the news business.
(Lew Wood is retired and resides in Temecula, California.)