On 26 September 1983 (5:21pm New York time), 12-metre yacht sensation, Australia II – with sail number KA6, radical winged-keel design and debuting the now famous Boxing Kangaroo flag – sailed into the history books by winning the America’s Cup.
On the waters off Newport, Rhode Island, Australia II became the Cup’s first successful challenger, first non-American winner and ended the longest winning streak in sporting history (132 years by the New York Yacht Club). The victory also captivated the hearts and psyche of our nation, with many regarding it as one of our key “coming of age” moments.
Syndicated by the Royal Perth Yacht Club, bankrolled by entrepreneur, Alan Bond, designed by Ben Lexcen, and skippered by John Bertrand, the “12-metre class” yacht of Australia II won the challenger series (against British yacht “Victory ’83”) to earn the right to challenge for the America's Cup.
Australia II crossed the finish line 41 seconds ahead of American rival and Cup defender, Liberty (skippered by Dennis Connor) to claim the finals series (best-of-seven races) 4-3 after being 1-3 down, needing to win the final three races.
The victory occurred around dawn in Australia on Tuesday, 27 September 1983, with a great many Australians getting up early that morning to watch the race on their TVs or down at a local establishment screening the event.
The original race occurred around England’s Isle of Wight in 1851, hosted by the Earl of Wilton (Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron), which the invited schooner, America, of the nascent New York Yacht Club inaugurally won. The awarded cup was subsequently named the “America’s Cup” with the winner earning the right to host the next race in their own waters.
Then Labor PM Bob Hawke – six months into the job – was watching the race at a public establishment in Claremont, WA, along with a host of journalists. Badgered by those journalists as to whether the day would be declared a public holiday, PM Hawke, filled with a few schooners of his own, famously quipped, “Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum.”
Despite yachting, as with horse racing, so often seen as a “sport of kings” (in Australia and elsewhere), Australia II’s victory was widely celebrated and enthusiastically embraced even by our battlers, the punters and everyday Aussies. The win uniquely captivated the hearts, minds and psyche of our then relatively small nation (by population and GDP) and showed us that Australian ingenuity and technology, when applied, can match it with the best in the world.
It was as if the victory had announced that Australia had arrived on the world stage, able to “punch above its weight” (so powerfully symbolised by the debut of the “Boxing Kangaroo” flag flown on Australia II) and was ready to become a serious player in international technology, sporting and other world events.
Celebrate this historic Aussie win in international sport and key moment in our “coming of age” by:
- if you’re in/near Perth, visiting the Australia II yacht and display at the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle
- going for a sail, windsurf or just a paddle this week in honour of Australia II’s great victory
- reliving the last few moments of the final race and victory
- watching this live TV footage of Labor PM Bob Hawke after the race
- watching these documentaries on the 1983 America’s Cup
- recapping some of the pictures and moments around the winning of the Cup, and/or
- sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, patriotic Aussies, those that love the water and those appreciative of hard work, ingenuity, spirit and character (despite Alan Bond’s subsequent, spectacular fall from grace less than a decade later).
FOOTNOTE: In a piece of poetic history, almost 35 years on to the day, marine archaeologists believe they have - at long last - discovered in the same waters as this victory, the wreckage of the Endeavour, the ship Captain Cook sailed in to discover and claim Australia.
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