by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

FREMANTLE, Australia — For a few minutes there, I had the story of this America’s Cup. I was bringing it home. I was about to deal for history, I was
. . .

But wait. Let’s start from the beginning. Friday afternoon. The day before the finals began. The coffee was gone. The note pad was empty.

“Hey,” I suddenly said to a boating writer. “Whatever happened to Australia II? Whatever happened to the boat that won the America’s Cup in 1983, and is the reason we are all here, four years later? Did they enshrine it? Did they bronze it? Did they put it in a giant glass case on top of a mountain?”

“Parking lot,” the boating writer said.

“Parking lot?”

“Couple of miles up the road. A General Motors dealership. New cars, used cars. It’s on display there. I saw it.”

A parking lot? A couple of miles up the road? Australia II? The boat that had wrested the America’s Cup from its American home? The boat that had popped the champagne corks for this entire continent? That boat? A parking lot? New and used cars?

“It seems so . . . disrespectful,” I said.

“Well, you gotta understand,” my colleague said, “these boats are outdated so fast, they have no use anymore. Australia II is a dinosaur now. Technology has left her in the dust. So they take her around for exhibitions. Let the regular people see her.”

The regular people. Oh, my. I had visions of 5-year-olds pawing her hull with sticky fingers. Grandmothers posing for snapshots before her keel. This was justice? Four years ago, she was the Grand Dame. Now she was Elvis’ Cadillac.

I got directions and drove to find her. Let’s make a deal And there she was.

She was hard to miss. She was right in front, on a boat hitch near the stoplight. No sails. No markings. Just her white body with the green-and-yellow trim and the boxing kangaroo in the corner. Four years ago, she had been cheered as she sailed victorious into Newport harbor. “Show us the keel!” the crowd chanted. “Show us the keel!”

Now here was the keel, exposed to the world, beneath a string of colorful pennants that dangled high above the asphalt, and a sign that said, “Great Savings!”

A parking lot.

“How much for that boat?” I yelled, walking into the dealership. “Who’s in charge? How much for that boat out there?”

A salesman smiled. “Want to buy ‘er, do ya?”

“Well,” I said, eyeing my rent-a-car.”I was thinking about a trade-in.”

Heck. If this was the way they were going to treat her, I wasn’t holding back.

“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” the salesman said. “Just arrived yesterday. Towed her all the way out from Sydney.”

“Are a lot of people stopping in?” I asked.

“Well, a lot of them look out their windows.”

He said he’d hoped the boat would increase his car sales, but he had not sold a single car since its arrival. I asked if he didn’t feel some special pride that his car lot was chosen to receive such an honored guest, such a rich morsel of sports history. He stared at me for a moment.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Certainly.”

Big talk to small talk I took out my notebook. I was writing this story. I was going to rub it in. And then maybe I’d buy the sucker and ship it home. This was a boat that had caused tears to fall. This was the boat with the revolutionary winged keel — hidden every night during the historic 1983 competition. This was the boat that haunted Dennis Conner’s sleep, that answered Australia’s prayers.

“History!” I blurted out. “You have history in your parking lot right here. How does that make you feel?”

The salesman looked at his feet. “Well, it’s, uh, not exactly that now, is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s not the real boat, of course. It’s a replica. Papier-mache.”

“Papier . . . mache?”

“Yeah. You didn’t think it was the real boat, did ya? Nah. I saw the real Australia II once. She was around here last month. Some kind of exhibition. Guys who own her paid a few million bucks for her. Last I remember, they was loading her up in the back of a truck.”

A truck? Papier-mache? My shoulders slumped. My pencil drooped. The note pad was empty. The boating writer was a dead man. Papier-mache. It was papier-mache. No history. No broken dreams. Papier-mache.

The salesman shrugged. I made some small talk with him. Weather talk. Tourist talk. Papier-mache talk. “Are you interested in a car?” he asked.

I said not right now.

That was it. The day was shot. The story was a bust. I took out my keys and turned to go.

“The real boat,” I said. “When you saw her in that truck — where were they taking her?”

“Dunno,” the salesman said, rubbing his chin.

“Maybe . . . a used car lot?” I suggested.

“Maybe,” he said.


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