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Upset Time Down Under
Sarah Ballard
November 10, 1986
Upstart Kookaburra III got the jump on her Aussie rivals in the America's Cup defenders' trials
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November 10, 1986

Upset Time Down Under

Upstart Kookaburra III got the jump on her Aussie rivals in the America's Cup defenders' trials

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Parry's plan hinged from the beginning on Murray's availability. When Murray agreed to commit three years to Parry's project, to move with his wife, Alex, from Sydney to Perth and to assemble the best people to help design, build and sail the syndicate's boats, Parry gave him carte blanche. He also guaranteed Murray every penny he needed, regardless of whether additional financial support could be found.

Despite the difference in their ages and situations, Parry and his No. 1 skipper are a perfect match. Both are quiet, thorough and demanding, and both are athletes. Parry's sport is baseball, although he was also the Royal Perth Yacht Club's 1978 snooker champion. From 1949 to 1970 Parry played in the amateur Western Australian Baseball League, usually as catcher, sometimes in centerfield and always as leadoff batter. Today Parry sponsors the league he once played in and is the donor of Perth's Parry Field, Australia's only major stadium devoted solely to baseball.

What Parry initially found appealing about Murray was that he was one of the few Australian sailors outside Bond's organization with America's Cup experience, although that experience was nothing to write home about. In Newport in 1983 Murray was helmsman for Advance, a Sydney-based 12-meter syndicate whose poor performance on the water was surpassed only by the ineptitude of its organization ashore. "I learned how not to do it from the Advance campaign," says Murray. "It was invaluable experience. There's nothing better than learning the hard way, which is losing every day."

When Advance was eliminated from the trials in '83, Murray offered his services to the Bond organization. In the crucial last weeks before the Cup got under way, it was Murray and his crew from Advance, now aboard Challenge 12, who drilled the Australia II crew in match-racing starts and who worked long hours ashore to help keep the boats in racing shape. The fact that the contribution of the Advance crew to Australia II's historic victory was never publicly acknowledged by the Bond people makes every win by a Kookaburra over a Bond boat that much sweeter for Murray. He even allows himself a smile once in a while, "a smirky smile," says Alex Murray. An "I've-got-something-up-my-sleeve kind of look."

Peter Gilmour, the 26-year-old helmsman on Kookaburra II, tells the story of one of Murray's slicker moves. The newest Kooka (III) was launched in early August. After a month and a half of testing, the syndicate decided she could be improved by adding a new stern section. This meant hauling the boat out of the water and transporting her across Fremantle to the syndicate's boatyard in North Fremantle, where she would be sawed in half and have a new stern attached. To avoid the negative press speculation that such operations always generate, Murray switched boats in the dead of night. On Sept. 20, while Kooka III was being driven to the yard, the syndicate's benchmark boat, Kookaburra I, which had been at the yard for alterations, was driven to the syndicate dock at Fremantle Boatlifters. There, with the addition of two Roman numerals, Kooka I passed for Kooka III for three weeks.

"When people asked us when Kooka I was coming back, we just avoided the question," says Gilmour. "It was a shrewd move. We didn't need any undue pressure at the time."

Murray put Gilmour in charge of assembling the boat crews while he went after the brains that every 12-meter syndicate needs these days. Two early recruits were an American and an Englishman. Chris Todter, 37, is from Boyne City, Mich. He moved to Australia in 1980 after a five-year stint with the Bendix Corp. in Southfield, Mich., where he was a computer specialist working on missile guidance systems. "I liked the technology," says Todter, "but not the end product."

In Sydney, Todter met Murray and did some work in the preliminary stages of the ill-fated Advance project. "I did the instrumentation and developed the analysis systems," Todter says, "but I never went to Newport. The syndicate head wanted me to buy my own way over, and I said forget it."

Using a Digital Equipment Corp. VAX-11/750 number-crunching computer, Todter devised techniques for analyzing quickly the tidal wave of data generated by the computers aboard the 12-meters during practice. At the same time, he developed four-screen graphic displays for the cockpit terminals. Astounding feats are performed by Todter's machines, feats such as predicting, within 30 minutes, the arrival of the Fremantle Doctor, as the afternoon sea breeze is called, plus the wind's strength and direction and the best course to sail through it—all several hours in advance of the day's race.

Todter has been assisted in his work by five graduate students from the Western Australia Institute of Technology who are funded by the syndicate and are using their research for Todter as their theses. "We have formed a joint venture with WAIT," says Todter. "It's called the Center for Marine Science and Technology, and it will be an ongoing benefit even after the Cup is over, funding research and probably some facilities as well."

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