A Sin­gu­lar Char­ac­ter

Stirred to cap­ture the amer­ica’s Cup, alan Bond left the new york yacht Club shaken.

Yachts International - - Sternlines - By DuDLey Daw­son

The press re­lease, date­lined New­port, Rhode Is­land, less than a year ago, was the short­est I’ve ever re­ceived, and it seemed terse and lack­ing in re­spect for its no­table sub­ject. “The New York Yacht Club,” it read, “ac­knowl­edges with re­gret the pass­ing of Aus­tralian yachts­man Alan Bond, a per­sis­tent four-time chal­lenger and 1983 win­ner of the Amer­ica’s Cup.”

That was it, a sin­gle sen­tence to sum up an in­cred­i­ble ac­com­plish­ment and an in­cred­i­ble life.

Bond suc­ceeded on his fourth chal­lenge, with Aus­tralia II best­ing Lib­erty to lift the Amer­ica’s Cup from the tro­phy case at the NYYC. First won in Bri­tain by the U.S. yacht Amer­ica in 1851, the Auld Mug had resided with the club since 1857. Bond not only had done the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble, break­ing a 132-year win­ning streak that was the long­est in all of sports, but he had done it with a con­sid­er­able de­gree of elan.

I first met Bond when he vis­ited the Har­grave de­sign of­fice in 1981. Jack Har­grave was a pro­po­nent of sen­si­ble, dis­place­ment cruis­ing mo­to­ry­achts, but Bond wanted some­thing con­sid­er­ably faster. He would use the yacht as his base for the 1983 chal­lenge. “Look,” he said, “if I should suc­ceed in win­ning the Cup, I’m go­ing to need to get out of New­port in a hurry.”

Thus, we soon chris­tened the 92-foot mo­to­ry­acht South­ern Cross, and it’s for­tu­nate she did in­deed have “a good turn of speed,” as Bond put it.

When I shared the NYYC’s news about Bond with my clique of ag­ing yachties, it seemed that each of them knew Bond per­son­ally as well, and each had a story or two to tell. One shared, “Bond ex­hib­ited what it is to be a hu­man be­ing liv­ing large, with the risks, re­wards and re­tri­bu­tions. But he had a good time do­ing it and dragged a lot of us along for a very good ride. You can’t over­state what that winged keel did to ad­vance the sport and how it opened up cruis­ing boat de­sign.”

She was re­fer­ring to Bond’s win­ning edge, a winglet added to the bot­tom of the keel by Peter van Oos­sa­nen, then a young Dutch hy­dro­dy­nam­ics re­searcher work­ing in as­so­ci­a­tion with Aus­tralia II de­signer Ben Lex­cen.

An­other col­league re­mem­bered, “I was a New York Yacht Club mem­ber at the time, but as a sail­ing jour­nal­ist, I was lucky to spend a lot of time with Bondy, usu­ally drink­ing with him at the Candy Store in New­port, to thor­oughly en­joy him. I loved Bondy since the day he said that when he won the Amer­ica’s Cup, he was go­ing to take it to Oz, run over it with a steam­roller, and there­after it would be the Amer­ica’s Plate.”

He con­tin­ued, “Talk­ing about Bondy and Ben Lex­cen and the oth­ers made me re­al­ize (once again) what I truly miss about the Amer­ica’s Cup: the peo­ple. I miss the Black­allers and the Turn­ers, the Bonds and the Bichs, and all the other sailors who were big­ger than life and who put the zing in the Cup.”

Alan Bond was that sort of guy, shar­ing a beer with the crew and fans, the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the com­mon man who suc­ceeded, and failed, and suc­ceeded again with­out los­ing his roots. He was, per­haps, the de­mar­ca­tion line be­tween the gen­teel but aloof old-money chal­lengers and the bil­lion-dol­lar syn­di­cates of more re­cent years that some­times seem as ea­ger to bat­tle it out in the court­room as on the wa­ter—or, should I say, above the wa­ter. With the winged AC45 cata­ma­rans now vy­ing for the Cup, watch­ing the tri­als re­minds one that Monty Python’s is not the world’s only fly­ing cir­cus.

Farewell, Bondy, and god­speed.

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