For sailors it was a JFK assassination moment. We can remember exactly where we were to the second when the Australian yacht Australia II gybed over and crossed ahead of the American yacht Liberty. Sailors around the world held their collective breath for the time it took both boats to round the leeward mark and battle their way up the last windward leg of the regatta. And a battle it was with Dennis Connor and his team aboard Liberty trying to do whatever they could to unnerve or inflict damage on the boat ahead, but the Australian skipper John Bertrand kept a cool head and matched Connor tack for tack until the imaginary line between the committee boat and the windward mark was theirs to cross.
Australia 2 had taken race seven and won the America’s Cup breaking the longest winning streak in sporting history. For the past 132 years the American’s had held onto the Auld Mug but no longer; the cup was going down under and the game was forever changed.
It was 35 years ago today (September 26) that John Bertrand and his Australian crew did the impossible by beating the American’s and taking home the America’s Cup. In his excellent book Born to Win, John Bertrand described how he knew that the only way that they could beat the Americans was to beat them psychologically. To play their own game. Up until that point every challenger that had arrived in Newport suffered from an inferiority complex.
Challenging the Americas on their home turf, so to speak, was intimidating and Bertrand knew that he was going to have to convince his crew that they were better than the crew on Liberty and that they could prevail if they just believed that they could. He wrote of his crew, “They needed to earn arrogance, to strut their stuff before the world – not necessarily in a bombastic way, but with the pure inner confidence of men who knew that they would win.” And they did. When they crossed the finish line they were a full three minuted and 14 seconds ahead of Liberty which was the largest victory by any challenger since they began racing in 12-meters back in 1958.
I was working at Hood Sails in Marblehead and we had set up a small television in the handwork department. I was one of only two non-American’s and while I was secretly pulling for the Aussies, I didn’t mention it. I need not have worried. The room was dead quiet as the two boat converged on that downwind leg but erupted when Australia II took the lead.
Dennis Conner was not a very sympathetic person and I think that many were happy that he lost even if that meant losing the Cup. Perhaps it was more than that; it’s not often that one gets to watch history being made and this was history in the making in a very dramatic and personal way.
In his book John Bertrand wrote about how much their victory changed the entire country of Australia. As a nation they had always felt inferior to most of the rest of the Western World. Australia was settled by prisoners who had been sent there from England. It was a penal colony and even though that sordid part of their history was well in the rearview mirror, the hangover from it remained. That was until Australia II crushed the American’s in a sailboat race. It was in that glorious moment (for the Aussies at least) that the world shifted a little on it’s axis and nothing was ever the same again.
So take some time for yourself today. As John Bertrand said, strut your stuff a little, hold yourself a little higher and have the confidence that you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to. You don’t need a winged keel or a superior sail wardrobe to win, you just need to believe in yourself and believe that you can. – Brian Hancock.
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the biggest loser
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