America's Cup Jubilee

Cowes, Isle of Wight, August 2001

General view of Cowes

Goodness knows how many websites there are/are going to be about the Americas Cup Jubilee, and how many feet (and giga-pixels) of photographs taken. For any one remotely interested in racing yachts it must have been the most photogenic event since... well the invention of cameras I guess. I spent a day and a half round the island, and I don't suppose I saw a third of what I could have seen. But I saw what I principly came to see, and that was 'Australia 2'. I don't think any sailboat before or since, with the possible exception of Sir Francis Drake's 'Golden Hind' has been quite so tied up in a nation's identity. Australia's winning of the America's Cup on 26th September 1983 was one of those events that you never forget where you were when it happened. I was in the UK, at a band practice, upstairs at a friends house, spending most of my time running downstairs for the occassional updates on the news. The Americans lead, the Americans lead.. Australia leads, Australia Wins! At the time the event was so high profile, even in the U.K., that the folk band I was in wrote a set of new lyrics for Maggie May (the Shanty, not the Rod Stewart song) about it.
'Twas a damned unlucky day when old Bondy came my way,
In his secret boat with funny looking keel
She had a figure fine
that was twice as good as mine

And I feared I'd lose my head in Newport Bay...

I guess you had to be there, but the point is that people knew what we were on about!

Thumbnail link to larger photo  Anyway, here, taken from one of the Isle of Wight Ferries, is an IACC boat being towed out for its days racing. Those boats are impressive as hell, with huge rigs - until you see them near a J class!
 Thumbnail link to larger photo  It was difficult to miss the Australian presence. After all only 3 countries have ever won the America's Cup, and one of them is not the one where this modest little flag is flying.
 Thumbnail link to larger photo  A general view over the Marina where the Twelves where located. The gold boat with the green sailcover is predictably also Australian, Kookaburra from the 1987 defence. The boat alongside is one of the many US 12s. Basically the whole area was filled with the post war history of the America's Cup. The other side of the marina from them is a 3-masted schooner, Adix, with wood, teak and wood coloured paint hiding what I suspect is a pretty hi-tech modern boat.
Thumbnail link to larger photo  Australia 2. Moored at the entrance to the marina she seemed to be noticeably different from the others, somehow smaller and lighter. I suppose its as good a demonstration of the scale of the event as any that I, a Cherub sailor, can be using the words small and light to describe a boat that's getting on sixty feet long and probably weighs more than every Cherub in the UK put together...
Thumbnail link to larger photo  And from aft we see that this is really being done thoroughly. Black Swan was Australia 2's tender in 1983. Not content with bringing the boat and the crew back together they also brought the tender too. Round the corner was the American Committee boat from 1983 too!
Thumbnail link to larger photo  And there is the world's most famous 12 metre - the world's most famous racing yacht I guess. I don't think any other sailing event has ever had quite the public interest of the 1983 America's Cup, and the boat - especially the keel - was at the heart of the stories.
Thumbnail link to larger photo  Pre Race on Saturday the press is out in force. I think that's John Bertrand being interviewed on the bow of Australia 2. He always seemed to have a lower profile than his opponent, Dennis Connor, who is probably the only professional sailor that some kind of percentage of the general population could name...
Thumbnail link to larger photo  And up goes the Boxing Kangaroo. Bertrand's co-written autobigraphy (ie the ghost writer gets credited!) plays enormous stress on how important team spirit and attitude were to the winning of the event. The Battle flag was the most visible part of this.
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 And as they take her out from the dock on goes the stereo!

Traveling in a fried-out combie
On a hippie trail, head full of zombie
I met a strange lady, she made me nervous
She took me in and gave me breakfast
And she said,

Thumbnail link to larger photo " Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."
Thumbnail link to larger photo "Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, "Do you speak-a my language?"
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
And he said,
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 "I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."

And out down the harbour she goes. Australia 2 finished 3rd in class, racing exclusively against 1986 generation or later boats, always with many of her original crew, who I hope will forgive me if I suggest are beyond the optimum age for a 12m crew.

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Kookaburra, who I think started the whole marina basin clapping and cheering as Australia 2 was towed out for her last race. It was an intensely emotional moment. There were a great many Australians in the crowd on the end of the marina breakwater watching her leave.

Australia 2 was practically dragged out of the museum by the original crew - and most especially the late Warren Jones, who was Syndicate Head in 1983. She hadn't sailed for around 15 years, and has spent most of the intervening time in the Australian National Maritime Museum at Sydney. The Western Australian Museum had just managed to prise her from Sydney's hand, and were then faced with a proposal to take their new prize exhibit to sea. Its to their credit that they agreed, but I very much doubt that it will happen again. Indeed I suspect that once they finish their new building the old lady will be bolted down even tighter than the America's Cup ever was!

A rush job to get her in some sort of racing order included finding sponsorship for a new mast and sails. A number of sponsors stepped in, notably Shell Australia. For the round the Island race the crew was the entire original 11, plus Sir James Hardy, the tune up helm, Scotty McAlister, the original bowman who broke his arm just before the cup races, and Warren Jones.

The Jubilee was a great event. I can thoroughly recommend the next one to your grandchildren. I rather suspect, however, that an excuse may be found a little sooner, although its difficult to imagine that this event can quite be repeated.

Jim Champ

Page Last Updated 19th March 2005

(Pastiche of Maggie May © Steve Reid/Simon Barden/Jim Champ 1983)

( Down Under by Men At Work, Music © C. Hay & R. Strykert, Lyrics © C. Hay)

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