1983 America's Cup
|Defender United States|
|Defender club:||New York Yacht Club|
|Challenger club:||Royal Perth Yacht Club|
|Location:||Newport, Rhode Island, United States|
|Dates:||14–26 September 1983|
|Winner:||Royal Perth Yacht Club|
The 1983 America's Cup was the occasion of the first winning challenge to the New York Yacht Club, which had successfully defended the cup over a period of 132 years. An Australian syndicate representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club fielded the Australia II, skippered by John Bertrand, against defender Liberty, skippered by Dennis Conner. Australia II won the match races to win the America's Cup, ending the longest winning streak in sporting history and ending U.S. domination of the racing series.
The defender: Liberty
Skippered by team principal Dennis Conner, Liberty won all the Defender trials and on September 2, 1983 the New York Yacht Club confirmed that Liberty was to represent the NYYC as defender of the America's Cup.
During the summer preceding the trials, Conner had been the focus of extensive media attention in the U.S. He was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, a rare recognition for a sailor.
The challenger: Australia II
Alan Bond arrived at Newport with Australia II, billed as one of the biggest threats to American dominance of the 12 Metre class. The boat was designed by Ben Lexcen and skippered by John Bertrand. The revolutionary "winged keel" of the Australian yacht was a subject of controversy from the outset of the challenger series, with the New York Yacht club alleging that the winged keel boat was not a legal 12 Meter, and that the keel design itself was the result of Dutch engineers, and not by Lexcen. This second point would have made Australia II illegal under the requirement that the boat be "designed and constructed in country" as the Deed of Gift that governed the competition stipulated. The boat was ruled a legal 12 Meter, and she was allowed to participate in the regatta. The speed of the new contender, along with the controversy and protests intensified international media attention to the series.
Australia II dominated the challenger series and entered the America's Cup finals as the most promising contender to date.
The U.S. yacht won the first and second races by margins of more than a minute when the Australian yacht suffered equipment failure, but the Australia II took the third race, and came back to win the fifth and sixth races after Liberty won the fourth. This was the first time the America's Cup had needed a sixth race, let alone a seventh.
|September 14, 1983||Liberty||US-40||Australia II||KA-6||0-1||1:10|
|September 15, 1983||Liberty||US-40||Australia II||KA-6||0-2||1:33|
|September 18, 1983||Australia II||KA-6||Liberty||US-40||1-2||3:14|
|September 20, 1983||Liberty||US-40||Australia II||KA-6||1-3||0:43|
|September 21, 1983||Australia II||KA-6||Liberty||US-40||2-3||1:47|
|September 22, 1983||Australia II||KA-6||Liberty||US-40||3-3||3:25|
|September 26, 1983||Australia II||KA-6||Liberty||US-40||4-3||0:41|
The cup title came down to the seventh and final race. For the seventh and deciding race on 26 September 1983 the wind was light at around eight knots. The pre-start was not a typical match race start. “Neither party wanted to make a mistake and end up in the protest room,” Conner would explain later. Liberty won the start by eight seconds ahead of Australia II. Over the course of the race there were three lead changes, as well as relentless pressure as each of the yachts tried to provoke dramatic new turns of events. Because both upwind speeds were nearly identical, the tacking duels were fierce and close. Dramatic wind shifts tested the tacticians on both yachts. On the penultimate leg Australia II passed Liberty and was sailing "significantly lower and faster than Liberty”. After 47 grueling tacks, Australia II crossed the finish line with a winning margin of 41 seconds, becoming the first successful challenger in the 132 years "since the schooner America won it in a race around England's Isle of Wight in 1851”.
The final race was televised in Australia in the early hours of 27 September 1983 (Australian time) just before dawn, and the victory was celebrated in public venues across Australia. Prime Minister Bob Hawke was interviewed at the dawn celebration in Claremont, Western Australia, and said, "Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum".
The loss of the 1983 America’s Cup was considered a time of shame in U.S. sailing, as the U.S. had been able to defend the Cup for 132 years. Dennis Conner took the loss hard. Asked about how he felt initially after losing the Cup Conner said: “It was awful. I just did not want to get out of bed in the morning. I am usually full of life and energy... I just wanted to hide”.
The America's Cup was transferred from the New York Yacht Club to the Royal Perth Yacht Club located in Perth, Western Australia, which subsequently hosted its first, but unsuccessful, defense in the 1987 America's Cup. After losing the Cup the U.S. had been determined to bring it back. Conner went to work on the next US America’s Cup Campaign. With the help of designers Britton Chance, Jr., Bruce Nelson and David Pedrick, the boat Stars and Stripes 87 was created which, after progressively gaining speed in a grueling challenger series, became the 1987 challenger. Stars and Stripes sailed against Kookaburra, the Australian defender, with Conner winning the 1987 America's Cup and returning it to the U.S.
In retrospect, Conner said that losing the Cup in 1983 had been good for the sport of sailing and the Cup itself: “Me losing after 132 years was the best thing that ever happened to the America’s Cup and the best thing that ever happened to Dennis Conner…Before the win by the Australians, the America’s Cup was only big in the minds of the yachties, but the rest of the world didn't know or care about it at all. But when we lost it… it was a little bit like losing the Panama Canal - suddenly everyone appreciated it. If I hadn't lost it, there never would have been the national effort... without that there never would have been the ticker-tape parade up Fifth Avenue in New York, lunch with the President at the White House and all the doors of opportunity that it opened”.
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