In 1983 an Australian usurper had the audacity to arrive in the perennial home of yachting's oldest race (Newport) with a 12 meter boat of revolutionary design. Alan Bond's now famous Australia II sported a winged keel that allowed it to cut through the water like a hot knife through butter. The speed of the boat prompted calls of cheating from the assembled blue bloods who were otherwise powerless to prevent it from laying claim to a prize that had been theirs since the days of Charlemagne. While Dennis Conner put up a courageous fight with his standard model 12 meter Liberty in the end he was no match for the swifter Australian who came from down in the series to win 4-3 and move the next Cup regatta to Australian shores.
The setting for this clash of the titans would be the tiny coastal city of Fremantle in Western Australia, where the winds were strong and unpredictable. More than a dozen yachting syndicates from all over the world signed up for a chance to wrest the cup from Australian hands. Among them were Dennis Conner who, unbeknownst to most, brought with him a boat that would in time be considered perhaps the finest 12 meter ever built, Stars and Stripes.
After a tough challenger series where upstart New Zealand and their fiberglass boat gave Conner all he could handle the Americans were set to go up against Australian defender Kookaburra III for all the marbles. In each successive round Conner had made modifications to his boat that enabled it to gain speed. Some at the time even believed Conner had been sandbagging in the earlier rounds in order to give the impression his boat was slower than it actually was. Regardless of where the extra boat speed came from though the defenders had no answer for it. In the final series Kookabura III tried again and again to lure Stars and Stripes into a match racing duel where their more maneuverable boat supposedly had an edge. But Conner refused to play. Instead he simply blew away from the competition on the first leg of each race and forced them to play catch up, which they weren't going to be able to do.
In the end Conner and Stars and Stripes swept the final 4 races to 0 and regained the Cup for the US. It was one of the most thrilling sporting events of the decade and would also be the last time 12 meter boats were used in the America's Cup.
Here are some highlights from the remarkable '87 America's Cup.