On 26 September 1983, the yacht Australia II made history when the oldest sporting trophy in the world, the America’s Cup, was wrested from the Americans after 132 years.
The Australia II was owned and built by a syndicate Western Australians headed by former businessman Alan Bond. The syndicate had unsuccessfully challenged for the Cup three times, which had been held by the New York Yacht Club since 1851, but the syndicate was determined to bring home the ‘auld mug’ in 1983.
The designer of Australia II, Ben Lexcen, had conceived a winged keel that under secret testing in the Netherlands had out-performed conventional keels. The yacht was built in Cottesloe by local boatbuilder Steve Ward. The crew was based in Perth and undertook a rigorous training program to prepare them for the series of races that would determine the challenger for the America’s Cup, held in Newport, Rhode Island.
Following the success of Australia II in the Round Robin series to select a challenger for the Cup, the yacht raced in the best of seven races to determine the ultimate winner. At the end of four races, with the score 3-1 against them, the crew of Australia II faced an enormous challenge. Against all the odds Australia II went on to win the remaining three races, becoming the first non-American yacht to win the Cup.
In 1988 the yacht and associated material was bought by the Australian government for $2,000,000, and accessioned into the National Museum of Australia collection. The yacht was subsequently displayed in Fremantle before a new home in Sydney, the Australian National Maritime Museum, was prepared.
In 1995 the Australian government offered the yacht back to the Western Australian community, recognising the value of conserving objects in their original place. A purpose-built facility to house the yacht was proposed. The museum, located at the western end of Victoria Quay in Fremantle, was completed in May 2002 and installation of the Museum’s exhibition completed for opening in December of the same year.
The yacht Australia II is displayed in a defining moment of the final race. Having just passed the American boat Liberty on the last downwind leg, Australia II is fast approaching the last rounding mark, the America’s cup buoy. The yacht is heeled to approximately 9 degrees as it approaches the mark, to begin the final leg to the finish. During the final windward beat Australia II tacked many times to defend their precious lead. At 5.21pm the yacht crossed the line to win the America’s Cup.