Cult America’s Cup: a painter named Alan Bond

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Alan Bond

Who knows if the Americans ever imagined that interrupting their domination of the America’s Cup, with a record that lasted 132 years and 24 editions, would be a native Englishman who had emigrated to Australia where he had begun his professional career as a house painter. The character we are talking about is not just any name in the America’s Cup saga, which is why he finds a place in our column devoted to the
America’s Cup cult:
his name is Alan Bond, the man who wrested the Old Pitcher from the Americans in 1983.

Alan Bond – The Character

Controversial, excessive, sometimes even opaque (in 1992 he ended up in jail two months for bankruptcy), Alan Bond fell like a cyclone on the America’s Cup. After arriving in Perth at age 12, he really began working as a painter, and came to control all of Perth’s billboards in a few years, and then began building houses, neighborhoods, and harbors.

The passion for sailing did not come at a very young age, but it involved him in a major way, even outside the America’s Cup. However, the America’s Cup became a goal of his, and Alan Bond was not one to stop: his first three challenges (1974, 1977, 1980) went unsuccessful; in 1983, however, he achieved a historic result that changed the course of the oldest sailing trophy in existence. Not least because he had chosen as Australia II’s designer a certain Ben Lexcen, a man who would revolutionize America’s Cup boat design. At the helm instead was called John Bertrand.

Alan Bond and the Yellow Fins of Australia II.

Australia II and its crew
Australia II and its crew

If there was one thing Alan Bond certainly understood, it was that in the America’s Cup you win only by daring, and not by trying to chase the Trophy holders down the same path as them. That is, it was useless to try to copy the American boats, because they would always be ahead, it was necessary to find another way and get ahead of them.

On Ben Lexcen’s idea, Alan Bond officially asked the New York Yacht Club, the holding club, for permission to test in a Dutch naval tank. At that time, the construction of the boat had to be carried out entirely in the country presenting the challenge, in this case Australia. The New York Yacht Club underestimated Bond’s request, realizing only later that that would be the end of American hegemony. In the Dutch tank, in fact, the Australians tested the legendary fins of the boat that would beat Dennis Conner’s Liberty at Newport in 1983.

800px-Australia-II-keelThe keel gate

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, approved 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.

Australia II throughout the period of the Newport Cup showed herself on the dock with a kind of “mutandon” that wrapped around her keel to conceal her secret. And on the water, the difference was seen: the boat was more agile than Liberty in many conditions, and the Australians even managed to recover from a situation of disadvantage on the score of 3-1 for Liberty, reversing the result to a resounding 3-4. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another, that of fins on the keels of Cup boats. It was not, however, the beginning of Australian dominance, the Kangaroos after that treble lost the Cup and slowly exited the scene with a few more minor participations.

Mauro Giuffrè

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