Australasia’s 45-year-old love affair with the America’s Cup came to a sad and lonely farewell on the shores of the Mediterranean last night when our sheep-loving cousins from across the Tasman lost the plot – and yacht racing’s Holy Grail – to the clock-makers from land-locked Switzerland.
New Zealand lost the best-of-nine match racing series 5-2 in what was the closest America’s Cup since Alan Bond’s Australia II stole the Auld Mug from the Yanks from the New York Yacht Club 4-3 in a best-of-seven series off Newport, Rhode Island, in 1983. That was the first time the US had lost the world’s oldest sporting trophy since USS America nicked it off the Poms in a fleet race around the Isle of Wight in 1851. As Queen Victoria said at the time: “There will be no second.”
Jamie Packer’s grandfather – Sir Frank – began Australia’s love affair with the blue water classic when his yacht Gretel (named after his first wife Gretel Bullmore) was the first southern hemisphere challenger in 1962. He made further challenges in 1967 with Dame Pattie and, in 1970, with Gretel II before his death in 1974. His son Kerry, never got the taste for salt water. His grandson Jamie only uses it to wet his budgie-smugglers for the cameras.
The Kiwis first won it in 1995 when Sir Peter Blake’s Black Magic took it from Dennis Conner’s Young America 5-zip in San Diego, California. They successfully held it 5-0 in 2000 at Auckland as defender against the Italian challenger Prada before losing it last time (2003) 5-0 to the slick Swiss Ernesto Berterolli’s Alinghi syndicate.
For those of you land-lubbing troglodytes who think the America’s Cup is like watching and waiting while doggy poo hardens – you have misread the pressure shifts moving in on this monumental sporting event. The first America’s Cup was held 45-years before the first game of the modern Olympics in 1896. The results came to us by sailing ships a year after the event.
When I covered my first America’s Cup at Newport Rhode Island in 1983, you had to be out in Narragansett Sound behind the jury boat to have any idea of what was going on – and that was because you got to see whose mast was shorter when the two boats crossed. On shore, there were the soundless pictures from the Goodyear blimp giving you a bird’s eye view off two white dots on a dark navy blanket with absolutely no context outside of the spectator fleet exclusion zone.
For the 32nd challenge – with the magic of modern television and audio – you are on the keening, leaning boat as it groans and creaks like an old cow giving birth. You can almost taste the salt water and feel the wind in your hair. Switzerland’s one second victory last night takes them – with New Zealand – to two wins on the America’s Cup ladder. The United States has 28 wins and Australia one. England has lost 10 times and Ireland five. It is most unlikely to ever return to the southern hemisphere for cost reasons.