On September 26, 1983, here in Newport, RI, the world of sailing was forever changed when Australia II, skippered by John Bertrand, defeated Liberty, skippered by Dennis Conner, by 41 seconds in the 7th and deciding race of the series, marking the first defeat the United States suffered America’s Cup sailing in 132 years and ending the longest winning streak in sporting history.
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.
In retrospect, Dennis 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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