Closed off from the world
Such outcomes were about as far as possible from our minds throughout the America’s Cup and even for some time beyond. We had no idea that our win had been received so well back home. And, I didn’t see footage of Bob’s famous line until about a week after we got back.
The reason we were so naive about the reaction was because we’d basically enclosed ourselves in our own little world throughout the entire series.
The common message he received from these people was, he said, ‘If a little country like Australia can beat America after 132 years of dominance, what else can they do?’
About six weeks out from racing, we were very confident about how we were going, but we had the whole world’s media trying to find out what we were doing. That’s when James Hardy, our technical advisor and ex-helmsman, said we shouldn’t watch the news or read the papers.
Jim said, ‘We know what we’re doing and the rest of the world is trying to find out’. He said it would be a distraction if we started watching the news and forgetting what our job was, which was to win some sailing races.
It was a very special moment in the campaign because we basically shut down all contact with the outside world. Even the many telexes we received from home were kept until after it was all over. What all that meant was that the massive celebrations going on in Australia came as a huge shock to us.
There were some warnings of what lay ahead. After the Cup, we flew from Boston back to San Francisco, where we boarded the plane from the tarmac. They had spotlights on the tail of the Qantas jet – and we couldn’t believe it when we looked up and saw that the Boxing Kangaroo was painted on the tail of this aeroplane.
The Boxing Kangaroo flag had been invented by us and was only hoisted after we won a race or were heading out to compete.
We all stopped in our tracks and said, ‘Hey! They’ve got our bloody battle flag painted on there! They can’t do that!’ It was the first indication to us of how much the groundswell of support had grown throughout the event.
Then, when we boarded the plane in San Francisco, everyone on the flight gave us a standing ovation. We were just thinking, ‘Geez, all we did was win a sailing race’.
Upon arriving in Sydney all the ground crew were out on the airstrip with Boxing Kangaroo flags in their hands, waving them around. Then we came out of customs and the media throng was incredible.
The chaos was a bit overwhelming, really. We’d been away competing, just concentrating on being fit and ready for competition.
There was no preparation for that sort of reaction from the public. Over the next three months, with all the functions and media and people wanting to share our victory, I think I had only two nights at home.
He perked right up
I’m not sure if the reaction would have been quite as big if another person had been Prime Minister at the time. But Hawke certainly did a great job of binding together the national pride and confidence we helped spark and turn it into something for everyone to enjoy.
Bob was brilliant and sharp, but he was also a people’s person and could relate to anyone. He struck me as inclusive and respectful of anyone’s thoughts or beliefs. You couldn’t get a more down-to-earth guy.
In that regard, he was a perfect person to be in that position when we won the America’s Cup. You only need to listen to the ‘canoe’ joke he told at our 30th reunion – it really epitomised the man.
Just a short time ago, I had some people come out here from Netflix in America to interview me and others associated with Australia II’s win. They were saying that, in terms of the influence it had on the country and around the world, they regarded it as the greatest sporting victory ever.
About 12 of them came out and, before they visited me, they interviewed Bob, who was struggling a bit by then.
They told me that once they started asking questions about 1983, taking Bob’s mind back there, his memories came flooding back and he perked right up. They said they got some unbelievable stuff from talking to him about that time.
It was a wonderful experience to be one of the faces of such a big moment for the nation. Personally, it had a big impact, too. I was sailing 18-foot skiffs parallel to the America’s Cup. I was in the top three in the world before it, but afterwards won three world titles and seven 18-foot skiff grand prix titles.
I think the reason I went up a gear like that was purely about a change in attitude. I gained great confidence. I learnt to plan better, make sure no stone went unturned and I realised that nothing was impossible.
I think it was similar for most if not all the crew – and the country.
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