The sport of sailing lost a great one with the passing of Alan Bond. Maybe more than anyone, he forced the sport to grow up when he led the team from Australia that won the America’s Cup in ’83. First with the inventive winged keel, he was clever and crafty enough to figure out how to get it tested and to then fend of rules challenges from NYYC. By winning and taking the Cup down under resulted in dramatic changes and improvements for the sport in many ways, perhaps most importantly initially the iconic TV images from sailing in the big breeze and waves against the azure blue sky of Fremantle. But his contribution was far more than that, it was the influence he had on the people around him, which endures and pays continuing benefit today in ways he probably never imagined.
I only met Alan a couple of times in passing. However, the tactician he had in ’77, Andy Rose, is a very good friend. Andy is an American who in the early 70’s was a force in match racing, so Bondy hired him to help beat NYYC. Eventually, for the 1980 Cup NYYC wrote the “Andy Rose Rule” to try and keep other Americans off teams from other countries for ensuing Cups.
Andy learned a lot of lessons from Alan, and it is pretty damn funny to sail with Andy and listen to him go into his full Australian accent thing. But more importantly is the essential spirit of doing right for the sport where Alan no doubt influenced Andy.
Steve Jobs talked about how you can’t connect the dots going forward, but you can look back and see the way the matrix of connections comes together. With Alan and Andy, one of the critical unknown benefits back in ’77 would become the Balboa Yacht Club Governor’s Cup – Balboa Yacht Club. In the late 80’s when the club allowed the Kiwi’s to come, that opened up the opportunity later for more international teams to enter. Eventually, Andy would become the driving force behind making the Governor’s Cup a truly world class event and helped to pave the way for more international teams to attend.
As fate would have it, a young aussie named Jimmy Spithill sailed in the Governor’s Cup several times, and then went to win the America’s Cup twice. Eventually, in 2012 Jimmy back to Balboa during the Governor’s Cup and gave an inspiring talk to the competitors. No one in 1977 could have predicted that in 2012 the then reigning America’s Cup winning helmsman, an Aussie, would come back to the place where it all started for Andy to be part of the event that got him first involved in match racing. A virtuous circle of there ever was one.
As the co-owner of the fine yacht “It’s OK” Andy, Tom Purcell and Lew Beery run that boat with an eye always towards what makes the sport better, meaning bringing in a lot of younger people to learn the game the way we all learned it, from mentors who cared, not coaches he are just paid to be there. The “It’s OK” family sails hard and always fair, but might lead the league in fun too.
What other boat has custom croquet equipment for post race fun? Wise veterans like Peter Macdonald and Greg Newman have helped to mold the likes of “The Yutes” (as the young guys in “It’s OK” are called) Chris Bretschger and Pat Leber into solid sailors, and more importantly, contributors to the sport. When you have the pleasure and privilege to sail aboard “It’s OK”, every once in a while you hear Andy slip into his Aussie mode, and you just know that is Alan Bond whispering in his ear.
So yes, winning the America’s Cup was a big and dramatic thing for the sport, but maybe the greater benefit to Alan Bond was the long last influence he had in helping to mold other leaders in the sport, like Andy Rose, who then continue to spread that infectious enthusiasm for life far and wide.
Sail on Alan, you made a bigger difference than you know. – Peter Huston.