William P. “Bill” Ficker was the skipper of INTREPID in the 1970 Cup defense against GRETEL II, considered by many sailing experts to be a watershed in the post-war history of the Cup. Although INTREPID beat GRETEL II four races to one, the score could have very well been reversed if not for the expertise of Bill Ficker.
An architect from Southern California, Bill Ficker had won a Star Class world championship. His skillful co-skippering of COLUMBIA in 1967 earned him control of INTREPID in 1970. Even though bumper stickers and lapel buttons announced that “Ficker is Quicker,” GRETEL II was smaller, lighter and the faster boat in the prevailing light conditions during the 1970 races. The first race ended with both yachts crossing the line with protest flags flying, the first time that had happened since 1934. The protests were subsequently dismissed and INTREPID was declared the winner.
The second race had to be abandoned because of fog, which set the stage for the third race one of the most controversial in America’s Cup history. GRETEL II won the race but was disqualified for smashing into INTREPID’s port side shortly after the starting gun was fired. There was a great howl of anguish both here and abroad, but most experienced sailors agreed that GRETEL II was at fault. She hit INTREPID by sailing above a close-hauled course after the starting gun, thus infringing on the racing rules. GRETEL II came back to win the next race by 1 minute, 2 seconds. The final race was a thriller, sailed in light wind, with both skippers using every trick they knew to get ahead and stay ahead. In the end, “Ficker was Quicker” by 1 minute, 44 seconds.