Harken Derm

Winning Back the America’s Cup

Published on February 4th, 2017

Dennis Conner 1987, Perth America's CupThe 1983 America’s Cup marked the first time the match had been won by a challenger in 132-years. But its sojourn in Australia was short-lived, as it was now 30 years ago, on February 4, 1987, when Dennis Conner cemented his legacy as Mr. America’s Cup by winning back the trophy he had lost.

After his defeat in Newport, Conner was committed to getting it back. But when his offer to challenge was turned down by the New York Yacht Club, Conner took his effort west to San Diego Yacht Club and formed his own syndicate.

His campaign was nearly flawless, incorporating science and intensive training to prepare his team. After some narrow wins in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger selection series, his Stars & Stripes crew poured it on in a 4-0 sweep over Australia in the final Match. The America’s Cup would return to the United States.

Current America’s Cup Regatta Director Iain Murray played a large role in the 1987 match. He was co-designer (with John Swarbrick) and skipper for the Australian businessman Kevin Parry’s Kookaburra syndicate, which won the defender trials before falling to Conner in the America’s Cup.

“We were very focused on winning the defender trials,” Murray recalls. “It was a really tough battle with the Alan Bond guys. It was day in, day out, very aggressive competition.

“We won the defender trials, we beat them in the final 9-0, but in hindsight, we were too focused on that and by the time we got to the Cup we were done, we were burned out. We hadn’t watched the progression of Dennis Conner and we ended up going into the America’s Cup with a boat that wasn’t as fast.

“Dennis ran his campaign to perfection. He might have only squeaked through the early part of the challenger series, but then his boat found another gear. The Kiwis had no answer and we could see it coming, but there was nothing we could do.

1987 America's Cup TIME Magazine cover February 9, 1987“We tried to race him, we tried to be aggressive, but at the end of the day he could just sail around us.”

Murray says the impact of that experience still resonates, both in Australia and personally.

“It was a wonderful period in our lives,” he says. “We were young kids given a free hand to go and defend the America’s Cup. It really doesn’t get any better. It was a gift.

“Australia really took the America’s Cup on. It was incredible. Every single commercial television station was broadcasting the same event! It was a huge event in a little sleepy fishing town in Fremantle, Western Australia. Talk about big fish in a small pond!

“Unfortunately we didn’t succeed in keeping it there. Dennis Conner and Stars & Stripes turned the heat up, came on strong late over the Kiwis and then overran us and the Cup went back to the States.”

Murray says the 1987 event set the course of his life in a way he couldn’t have imagined.

“When we left Fremantle, there was a real sense that we had unfinished business. I would walk around Perth or Sydney and it would take hours because everyone wanted to stop and encourage you to go and get it back. There was tremendous support.

“But the 1988 (deed of gift) Cup happened and then when we came back in 1995 and sunk the boat and then times changed. I had children and needed to get a real job! I never really expected to be back doing what I’m doing now, but times have changed and here we are.”

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STARS & STRIPES Winner America's Cup 1987 Helmsman Dennis Conner © Daniel Forster

Parade in New York City after 1987 America’s Cup victory. Riding on the float alongside the trophy is (from left) NY Mayor Ed Koch, San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor, and business leader (and now US President) Donald Trump.

Source: words – ACEA, Scuttlebutt; photos – DanielForster.com

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