To benefit the hospice community, Morgan, the last of the wooden era America’s Cup skippers still behind the wheel, lead the Twelve Meter Yacht Heritage for an afternoon of sailing and discussion this past Saturday in Newport.
Now 86, after a career that included projects ranging from a 12 Meter Yacht to the boats in Disney World’s “It’s a Small World” ride, Morgan directs his skills toward supporting the Hospice community. In 2014, he began collaborating with Heritage’s Newport owner and the Tampa Bay Hospice Cup to auction an “Afternoon with Charley” onboard Heritage. By 2016, this annual effort had successfully raised almost $30k.
In an era of billion dollar corporate race campaigns, Morgan’s 1970 Heritage bootstrap campaign may seem quaint. But it was also a distinctly American story. A phone company employee, Morgan made his mother cry when he decided to leave the security of Bell and enter the marine industry. An unknown upstart, his designs began winning distance races in Florida, and Morgan Yachts grew to a position at the top tier of the fiberglass boat industry.
Not needing to return to the phone company, but not entirely satisfied either, Morgan looked to challenge the dominance of the New York Yacht Club syndicates and sought to bring the America’s Cup to Florida.
He decided to be distinctive and build a completely varnished boat that would showcase its wooden character. With outer planking from one single sitka spruce tree, he paraded the brightly varnished boat through the streets of St. Petersburg before sailing her to Newport for the Cup trials. A crane failure and trucking setbacks almost doomed the effort, but Heritage competed valiantly, losing to Intrepid..
Afterwards, potentially avenging its just-shy performance in the Cup, Morgan’s Heritage became a dominant boat in 1970’s distance racing. To this day, crew and fans from the 1970’s races make pilgrimages to Newport to see her and sail her. The current owner even reports that wearing his Heritage shirt can spark conversations in unexpected places, such as when a complete stranger spotted him at a highway rest stop and then proudly recounted her own connections to the 1970’s Great Lakes racing scene…where she was often bested by Heritage.
Photos by Duncan Todd.