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Australia II sailmaker David Rees looks back at the 1983 America’s Cup victory

Forty years in the past the Australia II group was residing in a boarding home in Newport, Rhode Island for a gruelling summer time of crusing in the America’s Cup marketing campaign.

Their victory as underdog challengers ended the longest-running successful streak in sport historical past, with the cup being taken from the New York Yacht Club for the first time in 132 years.

It was touted as a coming of age for Australia, but it surely was additionally life-changing for one younger Tasmanian man.

For many Australians, the victory was a key second when the nation got here of age.(Supplied: National Archives of Australia: A6315, K3/11/83/24)

Sailmaker David Rees, who was 21 at the time, thought individuals back in Australia could be extra keen on Hawthorn enjoying Essendon in the AFL grand remaining.

But they acquired a rock star’s welcome after they returned after the September 1983 win.

“We couldn’t believe the hysteria about it all,” he advised ABC Radio Hobart.

“In Perth there were 250,000 people out there to greet us. It was mad.

“We have been celebrities for a day,” Rees stated.

Australia II and Liberty race in the finals of the 1983 America's Cup.

Liberty and Australia II race in the finals of the 1983 America’s Cup.(Supplied: Larry Moran, Chicago)

The Matildas’ achievement in the World Cup has made Australia look back on its iconic sporting moments, from Cathy Freeman winning gold in the 2000 Olympics to the 1983 victory of Australia II, with its secret, winged keel.

Next month, the Australia II crew will collect in Fremantle for a celebration to mark 40 years since the vessel, owned by high-profile West Australian businessman Alan Bond, beat defender Liberty.

The crew of America's Cup yacht Australia II cheers.

The crew of Australia II cheers.(Supplied: Larry Moran, Chicago)

The artwork of sailmaking

At a young age, Rees followed his brothers into competitive sailing at the Sandy Bay Sailing Club in Hobart.

By 13 he went to India to represent Australia with his brother in the international cadet class of sailing.

It was via this occasion that he made connections with John Bertrand, who would skipper Australia II in the 1983 victory.

America's Cup skipper John Betrand rides in a car during celebrations of the 1983 victory.

John Bertrand rides in a automobile throughout celebrations after the 1983 victory.(Supplied: National Archives of Australia: A6135, K31/10/83/2)

Bertrand, starting up as a sailmaker in Melbourne at the time, provided the sails for the young champions’ boat.

Rees later joined Bertrand as an apprentice sailmaker at 17, a craft he describes as like “sophisticated dressmaking”.

“Back then, a sailmaker would lay out on the ground what the sail ought to seem like, put the curves on the sail, sew all of it up,” Rees stated.

“You’d then put the edges on and the holes in the corners to carry the ropes onto it and fold it up and there you go — there is a sail.

“It was good enjoyable.

“I’ve at all times been fascinated by what makes a ship go quick.”

An old grainy photo of three men lying down on lots of pieces of material in what was known as the sail loft.

In the sail loft after an enormous evening of labor.(Supplied: David Rees)


Rees joined the Australia II team in Melbourne through his employer Bertrand, who had been involved in other America’s Cup campaigns.

“It was clear to me, even at a younger age, this problem was completely different to the earlier challenges,” he said.

With a revolutionary winged keel design by Ben Lexcen and lessons from Bond’s three previous unsuccessful cup attempts, the team was looking serious.

Rees requested if the group would want a sailmaker abroad, however his request fell flat.

America's Cup challenger Australia II (left) with its keel hidden behind coverings at the dock in Newport.

Australia II (left) with its keel hidden behind coverings at the dock in Newport.(Supplied: Larry Moran, Chicago)

Although he was young, Rees had already been to three world titles and knew what was involved in the campaign.

With a 20-year-old’s sense of adventure he decided to go to the United States anyway and it wasn’t long before his services were required on the team.

Working on the campaign was a full-time job in Newport from May to September, and sometimes sail repairs could take all night.

Rees said Bond was big on team culture, with all roles treated equally.

Days were spent with team meetings, fitness, keeping the boat running smoothly and preparing it for the more than 60 races in the season.

“We additionally spied on the Americans,” he stated.

A grainy old photo of several men doing push ups outside a grand old house.

Morning health at the Australians’ crewhouse, 1983.(Supplied: David Rees)

‘World Cup’ marketing campaign

Unlike the annual Sydney to Hobart yacht race, the America’s Cup is a whole season of racing and doesn’t occur every year.

“It’s mainly a footy season or World Cup marketing campaign,” Rees stated.

The cup marketing campaign includes a few dozen challenges earlier than the remaining boats are chosen.

“It’s actually boat on boat,” he stated.

“You acquired all the way down to an elimination state of affairs the place Australia II was lastly the challenger and Liberty was the defender.”


Rees said he learned a lot of life lessons from his time with the Australia II team.

“For me, it was only a boat race,” he stated.

“But the nonsense that went with it was very thrilling.”

A group of more than 20 men in shorts and tshirts looking at the camera and smiling.

The Australia II group, Rees circled.(Supplied: David Rees)

He said by the time the campaign was nearing finals all the Australians living in America gravitated to Newport, which is about 160 kilometres from New York and known for its Gilded Age mansions.

“I do not assume I met any Australian younger fellas who did not say they have been on Australia II,” he laughed.

Three men sit next to a trophy.

John Bertrand, Alan Bond and Bob Hawke mark the thirtieth anniversary in 2013.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

Rees recalls the exhaustion that followed the win, from months of long days and hard work.

“It was a bit deflating, we went back to the crew home for dinner and all the hangers-on have been there,” he stated.

“I snuck off to mattress pretty early.

“I actually missed the presentation of the cup because I slept through it.”

The group needed to take the boat out for filming the subsequent day, after which begin packing it up together with the home they’d lived in for months which was a boarding college.

A man wearing sunglasses sits on a vessel with ocean in the background.

Rees nonetheless retains in contact with the group at present.(Supplied: David Rees)

Back residence, the nation woke to information of the victory and at the Royal Perth Yacht Club then-prime minister Bob Hawke declared: “I tell you what, any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.”

When the group acquired back to Australia, there was a parade that stretched from Fremantle to Perth and plenty of celebratory occasions together with lunch with Hawke at the Lodge.

Rees stated he had stored in contact with the group, which reunites about each 5 years.

The Fremantle Maritime Museum will maintain a celebration on Sunday, September 24 to rejoice the historic occasion.

It will function performances by Australia’s Eurovision contenders Voyager, the Baby Animals and the Hoodoo Gurus, together with a drone present.





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