- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
How much of Australia II's success is attributable to Lexcen's design, how much to the skill of her crew and the vast experience of her shoreside managers, many of whom are now in their fourth Cup campaigns, and how much to sheer Australian guttiness is still open to question. Whereas crews, management and sails are variable factors that can be dealt with and adjusted as the situation requires, boat speed, the end product of design, is not. If one boat is significantly faster than another, no amount of tinkering with people and equipment can bridge the gap. But until two boats actually meet, there is no way of knowing which is faster. It has so far been observed that Australia II has very good maneuverability in the starts, that she tacks quickly and that she accelerates out of a tack quickly. Her keel could account for all that. On her record she would seem to be faster than all six of the other foreign challengers, but whether she is faster than any of the American boats, no one yet knows. As Valentijn says, "If you win a lot it means that everybody else is very poor or you're really fast. The chance for either one is 50-50. No doubt the boat is a good boat, but they [the Australians] always seem to end up on the right side of the course, to pick the right wind shifts, and that's experience. They have a boat that's maybe a super-boat or maybe just a regular good boat, but it makes them look supersmart. On Sept. 13 maybe we'll have a different view."
If the New York Yacht Club has its way, the view of the starting line on Sept. 13 may not include Australia II at all. On July 24, with a memo addressed to a member of the international measurement committee responsible for certifying the Twelves, the N.Y.Y.C. fired the first shot in a war of letters, memos and telexes that has grown increasingly nasty in succeeding weeks. In that first memo, Robert McCullough, chairman of the club's selection committee, contended, among other things, that if the wings on Australia II's keel are taken into account, she will measure out to something more than a legal 12-meter—say, a 12.5- or 12.8-meter. The Australians reply that their boat has been measured under the rule, that it has been declared legal by an international committee of measurers, and that the N.Y.Y.C. has no right to try to change the rules in the middle of the game. The International Yacht Racing Union, the body to which the N.Y.Y.C. has addressed its complaints, has agreed to review the matter on Aug. 30, just a week before the challenger—and defender—must be chosen.
As the paper war escalated, only one laugh, a horse laugh, echoed through the old Newport armory that serves as press headquarters. The laugh came when America's Cup veterans read the following memo, written by Liberty's navigator, Halsey Herreshoff, in support of the N.Y.Y.C action: "...there is no precedent for the shrouded, clandestine attitude of the Australian syndicate shutting out competitors from their rightful knowledge of that against which they are competing under known, strict rules." Clandestine is and always has been Newport's middle name.
Not surprisingly, Australians both in Newport and Down Under have taken the efforts to discredit their boat personally. Alan Bond, the syndicate head, was almost shaking with fury when he said, "This, of course, is an attempt to undermine our morale, but it is not succeeding." Telegrams of support from home paper the walls of the syndicate office in a shed at Newport Offshore:
"Don't let the miserable efforts of the N.Y.Y.C. distract you. The b—s are running scared."
"Bring back the old tin cup and make the Yanks compete here. At least we'll give them a sporting chance."
"If in doubt, bring out the secret weapon. Hold a koala over your opponents' martinis."
Keeping his head while all about him were losing theirs was smiling Ben Lexcen. He'd seen it all before. "They started it as psychological warfare, a game, but now they're believing their own press releases," he said of the N.Y.Y.C. as he strode toward a deli for a burger. Lexcen has the build of a grinder, those brawny crewmen whose shoulders power the winches that trim the sails of a Twelve. He wears faded blue shorts, an equally well-worn polo shirt and deck shoes—the waterfront uniform. "I thought you had to be sharp to be in New York," he said over his shoulder. "But I went to a 12-meter owners' association meeting the other night and a couple of them were there. I was stunned. I'm going to find out what business those guys are in and I'm going to get into it. I'll be rich." Then, shifting gears, he said, "That's it, though. They're not in business. Their fathers were in business, or their grandfathers. These guys all live in Vermont or somewhere."
Lexcen was born in 1936 at a dusty crossroads called Boggabri in the Australian outback, 200 miles from the sea. "I went back there one time to have a look," he says. "If you don't know Australia you can't even imagine what it was like. Australia is very dry and dusty once you get over the mountains along the edge of the coast. The rivers are hundreds of miles apart and they're just dribbly, slow, meandering streams. A big town will be about a thousand people, O.K.? Not poor, but a bit ratty. One main drag, nothing else, and usually a lovely center—Victorian architecture, stores with awnings to keep the sun off. A bit like High Noon, you know? This town that I lived in is the next step down.
"I have no idea what my people did," he continues. "It was the Depression. They did nothing. They walked around trying to get a job, with me under one arm and a suitcase under the other, that's what they did. I remember when I was really young my father used to cut timber to make railroad ties. By hand. Then the war came and he went into the Air Force, and away he went and he never came back. He didn't get killed, I mean. He went off with another woman, and my mother never forgave him. Or me."