6. THE CUP LEAVES AMERICA

Australia was one of the challenging countries in 1983, and the ‘Men from Down Under’ brought a secret weapon. Australia II sported a boxing Kangaroo flag in the rigging as she was towed out to sea, and under the water, a radically-designed winged keel that gave the 12-Metre Class boat superior speed under most conditions. The Australians kept the secret to themselves, draping large ‘modesty skirts’ from the deck to the ground when the boat was hauled from the water – keeping prying eyes away and all the time building speculation as to what could be under there.

Dennis Conner, ‘Mr. America’s Cup’, was charged with defending against the upstart Australians, who handily whipped through the challenger fleet and carried off the first Louis Vuitton Cup. That summer, in 1983, the America’s Cup had pride of place on every newscast, and front-page status in every paper. There was a sense of history about that season; that somehow, finally, the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year winning streak was going to come to an end. Equipment problems on the Australian boat allowed Conner to jump ahead early in the best of seven series, but Australian skipper John Bertrand battled back, eventually bringing the series to a score line of 3-3.

The seventh and final race was symbolic of the entire series, with Conner’s Liberty leading for most of the course in a light and shifty breeze. It was not until the final spinnaker run that Australia II was able to jump into the lead, and then hold on to it despite a ferocious, last-gasp assault over the last few minutes. For the first time in 132 years, the America’s Cup was leaving the New York Yacht Club.

Conner, then representing the San Diego Yacht Club, won the right to fight another day in 1987. Held in Fremantle, he won the Louis Vuitton Cup to become the Challenger and then delivered a shut-out victory of 4-0. This America’s Cup featured quite an on-the-water show, with the famous “Fremantle Doctor,” strong afternoon sea-breezes, blowing up incredible sailing conditions with giant white-capped seas, to challenge both the sailors and equipment.