For the residents of Sydney, the Cup was won at 7:20 on the morning of Sept. 27. An hour later, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, usually choked with city-bound traffic at that time, was empty, as Sydneysiders stayed home by the thousands to watch the celebrations 12,000 miles and 14 hours away in Newport. Earlier, at Sydney International Airport, passengers arriving on Pan Am's Flight 811 from Honolulu had refused to leave their seats until they were assured that the radio broadcast of the race they'd been listening to on the plane could be heard in the transit lounge.
As the morning wore on, Sydneysiders stood on street corners singing Waltzing Matilda. The biggest Australian flag anybody had ever seen appeared on the Harbour Bridge as if by magic. By noon the city's hotels and restaurants were running out of champagne. A woman reported receiving a call from a Pennsylvanian who was telephoning Australians at random to congratulate them. A newspaper dealer delivered the morning paper to the American consulate with a sympathy card enclosed. And The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the city's power demand had been 200 megawatts higher than usual during the night.
When dawn lit the skyscrapers of Perth, 2,400 miles away across the vast emptiness of the island continent, the vigil had ended and the celebration was beginning at the Royal Perth. The modern white clubhouse on the banks of the Swan River was jammed, and more people were arriving. They danced and sang, shouted and cried, the same as everywhere else Down Under, but in Perth, the isolated western outpost, the victory was especially sweet.
The party was still in full swing a few hours later when Hawke, a Western Australian himself, came to join the fun. The celebrants sprayed him with champagne, and a big hand reached out of the crowd to tousle his silver hair. "Any boss who sacks anybody for not turning up today is a bum," said Hawke, a Labor man.
American visitors of a certain age find Perth reminiscent of the Los Angeles of 40 or 50 years ago. It's a clean, new, prosperous, growing city and the capital of Western Australia, which is three times the size of Texas, with a population density of 1.4 persons per square mile (as compared with Texas's density of 47.6). Its climate is spectacular; the dry, desert air is crystalline. The waters are clean—even the Swan River is swimmable—and the hundreds of miles of white sand beaches are virtually empty.
Until 20 years ago Perth was a sleepy backwater, a hick town to residents of Sydney and Melbourne. But in the 1960s major iron ore deposits were discovered in the northwest part of the state, and the Western Australian mineral boom was on. Since then, gold, diamonds, natural gas and a host of less glamorous resources have been added to the list, and as a result Perth has become one of Australia's richest cities.
If Perth was sleepy during the first half of the 20th century, its port, Fremantle, a town of 24,000 situated 10 miles downriver, where the Swan meets the sea, was dead to the world. Aptly described as Abilene on the Ocean because of the frontier Victorian style of its architecture—Fremantle's warehouses with their ornate facades and turreted roofs were built in the boom years of the Kalgoorlie gold rush at the turn of the century—it will be the center of activity two years from now during Australia's first defense of the Cup.
Fremantle has a lively ethnic mix, including Italians, Portuguese, Greeks, Yugoslavs and Anglo-Aussies, and has sprouted sidewalk cafes and open-air markets that give it the air of a Mediterranean fishing village. Cappuccino sells almost as fast as Swan Lager these days.
Summers (October through March) are hot in Perth and Fremantle. Temperatures frequently lurk around the 100° mark, and a fierce sun bakes the landscape. Almost daily, however, relief arrives in the form of a strong sea breeze from the southwest, known as the Fremantle Doctor. It is the Doctor that makes the sailing off Fremantle among the best anywhere. Seventeen knots of wind is about average, 25 knots is not unusual, and the seas are steep and sharp. The America's Cup races, both trials and finals, will be sailed about five miles offshore, between the beach town of Scarborough and Rottnest Island. On a clear day, which is the rule rather than the exception, with a good pair of binoculars it will be possible to watch at least part of the action from the shore.
Don Wieringa, the 42-year-old owner of Fremantle Boat Lifters, the largest, busiest and tidiest boatyard at Fishing Boat Harbour, is one of several citizens of Fremantle who stand to profit from the invasion of people, money and boats that has already begun in preparation for the Cup races. At present Wieringa is landlord to the America II syndicate of the New York Yacht Club because he was the first Fremantle businessman to see the potential for profit in the 12-meter onslaught. Before Australia II had even crossed the finish line in the seventh race in 1983, Wieringa had sent an associate to Newport to report back on how his facility, which services 700 lobster boats a year, could best be fitted out for yachts. When the Americans arrived in Fremantle in March 1984 looking for waterfront space, Wieringa was ready for them. He says he offered his facility to the local syndicate that owns Australia II first but was turned down. "Maybe they wanted it for nothing," he says. "But I didn't build a $5 million facility to give it away." (The local syndicate says Wieringa's place didn't meet its needs.) Other American syndicates, including Dennis Conner's group from the San Diego Yacht Club, tried to entice Wieringa away from the NYYC with offers to better what the club was paying, but by then Wieringa had become friends with the NYYC advance party, and the deal was done.