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"I think our greatest strength is the smallness of our group," says Warren Jones, Australia II's executive director. "We brought 28 people here. A week ago there were only 21 of us left. We can cut corners. We can be like a little group of commandos versus a big infantry that's got to have all sorts of rules."
As a Newport veteran, wife of the skipper and mother of three, Raza Bertrand has become the unofficial den leader for the group of crewmen's wives and 10 children who live in two rented houses on Dennison Street, down near the docks. "We're a very family-oriented campaign, with all the children here, and we seem to be fairly self-contained," she says. "The crew is unbelievably close. We had a dinner at the crew house the other night and I was quite taken by the love and support that is there."
Lexcen and his wife, Yvonne, live nearby in another rented house. Lexcen is godfather to two of the crew's children, but the children to whom he is closest, his three step-grandchildren, are at home in Sydney. "My whole life is around those kids," he said. "If they have a day off from school, I have a day off and I spend it with them, if they want me. Wind surfing, teaching them to make things on a lathe, playing Space Invaders when their mother's not looking. I try to teach them how to survive in the world."
Anybody who can survive four America's Cups would have to be a good teacher. Lexcen thinks Australia II will win this time if the rulemakers give her a chance, but even if she doesn't, he has plans for a different sort of life from now on. For one thing, he would like to build some more ocean racers. "A 12-meter is too long between when you get the concept and the design to when there's a result," he says. "Two or three years. If you're doing ocean racers, there's a new one almost every month. Good or bad, you get a kick out of it." He also plans to sail every day next year, "for several years, I hope, if I live that long.
"I don't want to set the world on fire. I tried that when I was in my 30s. That's a road to nowhere. You end up in a box, dead. Everybody. Alan Bond, Bob McCullough, the Aga Khan, the taxi driver on Thames Street, the garbage man, all end up in the ground, dead. So you got to squeeze the goodness out of your life."
In 1981, a year after the America's Cup races were over, Jim Hardy, the helmsman of Australia, was knighted for his valiant but losing effort. If Australia II were to win, would Ben Lexcen be knighted? "They'd never knight me," says Lexcen. "What about the owner? What about the skipper? Besides, there's a socialist government in Australia now and socialists don't knight people. They have orders, like the Order of Lenin. They have the Order of the Kangaroo, or something."
But what if? Lexcen chuckled. "Then I'd have to go around like Jim Hardy all the time." He tucks his chin in against his neck and straightens the knot of an imaginary tie. Sir Ben.