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