ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
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.”

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.”

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.