Bill Ficker, 1970 America's Cup champion yachtsman and former Newport Beach Citizen of the Year, dies at 89

With a cool mind, steady hand and amiable manner, Bill Ficker solidified Newport Beach's place among the sailing world's elite.

The America's Cup champion and all-around local icon died Monday. He was 89.

A 1988 profile in the Los Angeles Times described Ficker as "a most congenial man, described by friends, business associates and employees as warm, witty and fair."

Steve Rosansky, a former Newport Beach mayor who is now president and chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce, worked closely with Ficker on the campaign to move City Hall to its current location.

Though Ficker was mild-mannered and quietly focused, he was well-spoken and clearly commanded respect, Rosansky said. He could choose a path and others would walk with him, Rosansky said.

"Some people just shout and shout and shout," Rosansky said. "Some people are doers. Bill was a doer."

Ficker was an architect by trade, a member of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and a former Newport Beach planning commissioner and Citizen of the Year.

As a yachtsman, he was dominant for decades. In 1958, he was a Star Class world champion. In 1970, at the helm of Intrepid, he won the America's Cup. In 1974, he won the Congressional Cup.

The America's Cup Hall of Fame inducted him in 1993, and last year, he joined the National Sailing Hall of Fame.

According to an account posted on the America's Cup Hall of Fame website, the 1970 final series was a nailbiter. Intrepid was older, bigger and heavier than her challenger, Australia's Gretel II. Both boats finished the first race with protest flags out. The victory went to Intrepid. The second race was called off because of fog. In the third race, Gretel came in first, but Intrepid took the victory because Gretel bashed into Intrepid's port side not long after the starting gun. Gretel took the fourth race cleanly. In light wind, Intrepid took the fifth by a minute and 44 seconds.

Ficker's name lent itself to a catchy slogan, "Ficker is quicker," that Ted Turner — the media mogul and accomplished mariner — printed on buttons for the 1970 America's Cup. Jackie Kennedy Onassis wore one. Ficker cringed.

"I was embarrassed about them at first," Ficker told The Times in the 1988 profile. "In those days, none of the sailors wanted to do anything to flaunt himself."

In a post about Ficker's death on the Sailing Scuttlebutt website, Stephen Van Dyck, Ficker's tactician on Intrepid, wrote: "Bill's acute intelligence, dry sense of humor and immense energy and focus were coupled with natural leadership skills that his loyal crews enjoyed and prospered under. No wise competitor underestimated Bill on the race course, and no competitor missed a chance to mingle easily with him at the bar to enjoy his open and friendly style."

Services for Ficker had not been announced as of Thursday afternoon.

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