A lasting victory beyond the finish line

Published on March 10th, 2019

When One Australia sank during the 1995 America’s Cup, it was miles offshore where she remains settled along the San Diego ocean floor. Her stories remain untold, but when Stars & Stripes USA-77 went under in July 2002 while training in advance of the 2003 America’s Cup, their adversity occurred in shallower depths off of Long Beach, CA.

While this would prove to be Dennis Conner’s final Cup, and the beginning for Swiss Ernesto Bertarelli and his new Alinghi squad which toppled the challenger series and crushed the Kiwi defender 5-0, the impact of that training day in Long Beach still lives on. T.J. Perrotti of Perrotti Performance Design shares the memory.

Those of us on the Stars & Stripes team prefer to think of the “minor” USA-77 snafu as more of a “grounding”, than an actual “sinking”. Hey, if the mast is still visible above the water, there’s bound to be hope!

The truth is, the rudder stock did fail, leaving the rudder adrift behind the boat, and a big-ol’ hole in the stern. The boat’s fate was cast at that point, despite the best intentions and actions of her crew.

The recovery of the boat had many unsung heroes. Mick Harvey and his crew worked tirelessly with a local massive-crane company to salvage the boat as safely as possible. At first glance, once recovered, she looked not too bad.

However, once onboard and inside, we think that entrapped air in the bow caused a pressure differential as the boat reached depth, that, in turn, buckled and distorted much of the structure, sort of like pushing an air-filled soda can to deep depths.

To his amazing credit, Dennis Conner never flinched. Nor did Bill Trenkle and team management. “Onward, push forward” was the game-plan, without hesitation. We salvaged the largely-undamaged back half of the boat, while New England Boatworks was tasked to build a new front half of the boat.

Both halves (old and new) were shipped to New Zealand separately, and then fitted and scarfed into place. The precision of the fit was amazing … super-tight tolerance. And plenty of gold stars were quietly tossed out to the boat building crew, design guys, shore-side crew, etc. who worked ‘round the clock, day after day, to make it all happen.

In the end, I suspect that the unplanned distraction did likely steal away our team’s momentum. We didn’t quite shine in the Cup trials as we had hoped, but there’s a lasting victory that our Stars & Stripes teammates will always carry with us.

Without flinching, we faced the challenge of rising from the depths (literally), and pushed ahead with enthusiasm, mutual support and encouragement, and hope. I, for one, will never forget the lessons learned therein, and am proud to have shared the journey with teammates who never, ever quit.

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