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

FREMANTLE, Australia — The afternoon was hot and quiet, and Cyril Kenair, the security guard, swiped at a fly that was buzzing his head. A woman and two children came to the door of the Royal Perth Yacht Club and Cyril stood up quickly.
“We called this morning,” said the woman, her voice polite and hopeful. “Do you suppose we could see the Cup?”

“‘All right, mum,” he said. “But the kiddies — will you watch that they don’t put their hands on the glass?”


“Very good, then. Go on up.”

They climbed the stairs to the third floor, where the silver America’s Cup trophy — yachting’s most prized possession, which was captured by Australia II in 1983, after 132 years in America — sat on display inside a glass case. Cyril, 67, a retired air force pilot, looked after them, then took his seat and resisted the urge to go down the hall and look at the TV set.

Ten miles out on the Indian Ocean, an American yacht was within seconds of defeating an Australian yacht to determine the fate of the trophy Cyril had been guarding for more than a year. A race. A boat race. For the silver cup.

“It didn’t look good,” said someone who had been watching earlier.

“No,” said Cyril, glancing at his watch. “I gather we’re losing her right about now.”

“Kind of a shame, no?”

He shrugged. “That’s the way these things go. Wars are won, and wars are lost.”


Out on the water, Stars & Stripes was crossing the finish line for her fourth straight victory in this 1987 America’s Cup final. Four-zip. And the war was over. Dennis Conner, the 44- year-old skipper who had lost the last Cup final raised a triumphant fist and more than 500 spectator boats — a watery traffic jam — roared and honked and screamed their approval. The message was clear.


It’s America’s Cup again.

Conner and company had waited more than three years. They had spent $15 million and used five boats. They had taken a mediocre craft in November and modified and modified and modified, and, finally, with the right riblets and the right keel and the right sails, it was the right boat. It was the fastest boat.

“WELL DONE DENNIS, YOU BASTARD!” read a sign in the port.

It’s America’s Cup again.

“Is this sweeter than defending it?” someone would ask Tom Whidden, the tactician who was with Conner on Liberty, which lost the Cup off Newport, R.I. “Is winning it back sweeter than just winning it again?”

“This,” Whidden would say with a huge smile, “is the sweetest thing of all. No one has ever gone to another country and won the Cup back. No matter what comes now, it will never compare to this one.”

THE CELEBRATING BEGAN before the final buoy was passed. The crew posed for pictures on board Stars & Stripes during her final leg, hoping to catch the opponent in the photo background. How quickly had they won this thing? How much quicker is possible? In all four races, Stars & Stripes trailed Kookaburra III only once — by three seconds at the start of the second race. Otherwise, she led around every mark in every leg of every race. Four races. Every leg. Every mark. How quick? That quick.

Wind was not a problem. Name the wind. Stars & Stripes won in light wind and heavy wind and flukey wind and upwind and downwind. Every wind. No problem.

“Were you that much better than them?” someone later would ask Conner. “Was

that it?”

“I think the Kookaburra team did a good job,” he would answer. “But in this particular challenge, I think Stars & Stripes was just the better boat.”

Could anyone deny it? No. Not the Kookaburra crew and not the Australian press and not the 100,000 who crammed the jetties and the piers and docks to cheer on the Australian challenge Wednesday, hoping for at least one win against the American blitzkrieg. Desire was everywhere. Desire is important. But desire does not make a boat go faster.

It’s America’s Cup again.

THIS WAS FATE, destiny, so inevitable that plane flights out were booked en masse after Stars & Stripes’ second victory. And once the gunsmoke-blue boat pierced the finish line Wednesday, one minute and 59 seconds ahead of her Australian rival — the first three races had been won by 1:41, 1:10 and 1:46
— the only questions left were, “Where’s the party, and when?”

The first was right on the Stars & Stripes dock. People who paid $10 for a glimpse would sit on the shoulders of people who paid $40 for a glimpse. People would hang on masts of other boats and people would sit on rooftops and people would fall into the water. Jimmy Buffett would be on hand and Walter Cronkite would be on hand and a man in a tuxedo would sit on a rubber raft, waiting to serve the crew champagne. A tuxedo? In the water?

“This is what it’s all about!” U.S. crew member Henry Childers, a winch grinder, would howl in the midst of it all. “We worked a long time for this, a lot of thankless days and nights. This year we’re the best in the world.”

Dennis Conner would say, “Thank you all very much,” then be whisked off for a press conference with losing skipper Iain Murray. Childers would throw his arm around several of the Kookaburra crew — who had wandered over to congratulate the victors — and make plans to join them at the bar. Whidden and Jon Wright, the mainsheet trimmer, would answer questions about the feeling of revenge after 1983, while all the time beer and champagne and more beer would be dumped and doused and drunk. Music would blare through the loudspeakers. Rock music. A yachting rap.

The keel of Stars & Stripes would be painted with the words “Budweiser — King of Beers.” Balloons would fly. Flags would fly. Corporate bigwigs would slap backs with the crew members and nod their heads over new designs and new funding ideas and where they should eat dinner. Chants of “U-S-A!” would ring through the local pubs and singing took over the streets and went for hours and hours for the glory of what had been recaptured.

The Cup. The Cup. The Cup.

AT THE ROYAL PERTH Yacht Club, it was closing time. A family that had been viewing the Cup in its glass case with the red carpet came down the stairs to exit. Cyril, as usual, stood up.

“We’ll miss it, won’t we?” said an older woman, perhaps the grandmother.

“Yes, mum,” Cyril said.

“It was terribly exciting that day when we won it,” she said. “I’ll never forget. They played the music on the streets, in the middle of the day.

“One hundred and thirty-two years the Americans had it. And we had (it) for three and now it’s going back. But we gave it a good row, don’t you think? It was nice for a while, don’t you think?”

“Yes, mum,” Cyril said, and he said goodby and the family left. On the outer door of the club, a poster had already been hung detailing Friday’s presentation ceremony, in which the trophy would be handed to the winners for its trip back to the United States.

“Four o’clock,” Cyril said, noting the hour at which he would be out of a job. He pulled the office door. It shut with a click. CUTLINE With flags and banners flying, the Stars & Stripes, near the center of the photograph, and a companion boat are towed Wednesday morning from the harbor to the race course off the coast of Fremantle. Stars & Stripes crew members celebrate beneath their yacht shortly after it was lifted from the water Wednesday following victory in the fourth and final race of the America’s Cup.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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