“Shady” history of the America’s Cup | Here’s how the Australians “cheated” the Yankees

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In the dock, both the real and virtual (read: social) ones, there are many voices “against” the America’s Cup. A regatta with the rules of the game changing all the time, where the defender makes the best of things, where more important than the challenge at sea is what happens ashore, in the builders’ warehouses, in the unexplored meanderings of the rulebook and (Ellison and Bertarelli proved this, some time ago) in the courts. Whoever has the most money wins. And those who should win but lose throw tantrums and create their own anti-Cup (Ellison and Coutts).

But we should not be surprised. This has always been the case in the history of the America’s Cup. We combed back through the years, with the help of Mario Oriani’s book “America’s Cup, the real story.”, finding controversy and mutual accusations between challengers and defender since the first edition of the Cup! We told you in the first installment about the alleged irregularities in 1851, 1871 and 1956… today we “explode” the Australia II case.

Australia-II-WA-Museum-Sally-May1983 – THE FINS OF THE AUSTRALIANS
This is the 1983 edition, in the final match the defender Liberty with Dennis Conner at the helm, and Australia II, with skipper John Bertrand, are competing. The Australians understood that to finally beat the Americans they had to surprise them, rather than try to copy them. Australia II towered hidden by large “underpants” that acted as a curtain to the living work: this was to keep the famous “flaps” on the keel from being seen. There was great anticipation to see these flaps. Fins that had threatened to mess up the Cup.

To understand the story properly one has to go back to when Ben Lexcen, designer of Australia II, had told Alan Bond, the union’s patron, that he had an idea but it had to be tested in a real, reliably equipped naval tank. The basin he needed was the Nederland Ships Model Basin in Holland. Not wanting to be a “stowaway” and contravene America’s Cup rules about the autarkic use requirement of making the boat at home, he correctly asked the New York Yacht Club for permission to use the tank of a country that, by the way, had never participated in the Cup and was not interested in it. He obtained permission but was careful not to reveal what he needed the naval tank for.

The Dutch sojourn lasted six months, and intrigued the Americans, who came to discover that the tests mainly involved, in addition to a new form of rudder, small wings placed at the end of the keel. A fierce controversy erupted. The scandal became even more inflamed when it was discovered that a secret resolution, passed in 1982 by the Keelboat Technical Committee of the IYRU (today’s ISAF), had ruled that adding addendums in keelboats was legal. The Yankees tried to find out who had been the author of that “coup” at the IYRU, but they did not get a spider out of the hole.

It later came to light that the Committe met secretly and that all members were convinced that the Australians had somehow cheated (i.e., that they had somehow tampered with the rules), but to have the truth come out would have risked scuttling the Cup, possibly leading to the cancellation of the 1983 edition. The nine committee members were divided, four against five, but among the five against, no one had the courage to propose the vote-it was too great a responsibility. So nothing, the Australians came out immaculate.

But at this point the Americans asked who was the real designer of the boat. They claimed that the idea for the fins was not Lexcen’s but Dutch engineers’ and thus went against the “autarky” rule mentioned above. The Australians denied it. Alan Bond personally delivered an “affidavit” in which he stated that everything was Lexcen’s doing. The affidavit was accepted, on the condition that Bond undertake under oath to declare that the Australians had acted without any intention to violate the regulations. Bond, assisted by a panel of hired lawyers, refused to be sworn in considering himself, indeed, gravely offended because his word as a gentleman had been questioned.

In the end, Australia II won the challenge, first on land and then on water, beating the Yankees 4-3 and bringing the America’s Cup to the land of kangaroos after 24 editions.

This story is taken from the volume “America’s Cup, the true story” by Mario Oriani. The America’s Cup as you’ve never known it. In the story, which is an exciting novel of men, adventures, great successes and disastrous flops, you will finally discover the background of the world’s most famous regatta. The story of hundreds of boats and men, competing to the last tack to try to grab that lumpy, ungainly Silver Cup, never out of fashion from 1851 to the present. More than 200 historical images in the appendix!





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