On this day: Australia wins the America’s Cup

By Natalie Muller 7 November 2013
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Australia’s win in the America’s Cup 28 years ago was a victory like no other before or since.

THE DATE, 25 SEPTEMBER 1983, remains vivid in the memories of Australians who watched – perched on the edge of their sofas, thrusting into the air punches of elation – as Australia II crossed the America’s Cup finishing line at Newport, USA.

It was one of those events where you can remember what you were doing at the precise moment they saw or heard the good news. And, it moved then Prime Minister Bob Hawke enough to famously declare: “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.”

Breaking 132 years of America’s Cup domination

Australians love the water, but yachting is not a spectator sport for the masses. Why then, did the win have such an enormous impact?

John Bertrand, skipper of Australia II and now chairman of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, says the many superb performances by Australians – notably Cathy Freeman’s gold medal sprint in the Sydney Olympics and Kieran Perkins’ win from lane 8 at the Atlanta Olympics – make it difficult to choose the ultimate achievement in Australian sporting history.
“We broke 132 years of American domination in winning the America’s Cup – we’re proud of that!” says John.

It was a glow that was shared by many in the country, and more people chose to become naturalised Australians shortly after the win, than ever before or since. John says; “People felt part of this country for the first time. Certainly there was a great injection of both pride and confidence into the country.”

Australia II’s controversial keel

What about the controversy surrounding the secret weapon that gave the Australian yacht its advantage over its American competitor – the upside down, winged keel?

There has been a perennial argument over whether Australia II should have been disqualified because the rules specified that competing yachts had to be designed by residents or citizens of the country they represented. The Americans alleged, but couldn’t prove, the boat was not Australian-designed. Then, in 2009, Dutch boat designer Peter van Oossanen claimed Australian II designer, Ben Lexcen, had minimal involvement in the keel’s design, and a Dutch team were the true designers.

John claims it’s a technicality. “Success has many fathers; failure has none,” he says. “To win the Cup required a great deal of work by many people, but in terms of any controversy, the key was [that] Ben Lexcen was the chief designer. So under the rules, Australia II was totally legal. Of course, the America’s Cup rules now don’t even consider nationality.”

Today, Australia II calls home the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle.