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Searching for the America’s Cup, Down Under

On a recent trip to Australia we took a flight to the country’s west coast in search of the coveted America’s Cup. Of course, we know the Cup itself no longer resides Down Under. We did, however, imagine the town of Fremantle, the base for the 26th challenge in 1987, would be in itself a shrine to that memorable day four years prior, when the crew of Australia II wrested the Cup from the Americans. One would think that with such a history, the city would have named everything after the great event, and that finding signs and idols would have been easy. But alas, it was not so.

The day began with a drive from Perth to Fremantle, hoping along the way that we would find a marker on the map — something like “Home of the America’s Cup Winners,” or “America’s Cup Here,” with a big, bold arrow. We found neither. So instead we looked for the Royal Perth Yacht Club, thinking there we would find the memorabilia we sought. We were met by a locked gate and no idea if there was any point in trying to talk our way into the club. So we opted to ask at a nearby hotel reception desk if there were any local nods to that famous moment when Australia II, built and owned by a syndicate of Western Australians (or Sandgropers as they’re lovingly known by the rest of the country), sailed to victory in Newport, Rhode Island.

“If you walk down the road you’ll find a historic trail with information plaques,” the nice lady told us. Off we went.

There were indeed plaques, mounted on not-quite-waist-height bollards, each featuring one of the boats that raced in the 1987 America’s Cup.

America's cup plaques on bollards
Close, but not quite what we were after.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

By the time we’d completed the entire length of the trail, we were better educated, but somewhat disheartened, and a little thirsty. A little lunchtime beverage might help us reassess our mission. It was then that we were surprised by a statue of a man who looked more than a little familiar. The original front man for the iconic ’70s rock band AC/DC stood before us — the legendary Bon Scott. This was the kind of thing we were looking for: a permanent reminder of a significant point in time — but with sailboats.

Bon Scott statue
Although born in Scotland, the famous rocker immigrated to Fremantle with his family when he was 10 and attended the North Fremantle Primary School.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

Fortunately, as we made our way to the nearest tavern for a refresher, our local companion said, “What about the maritime museum?” There is one? Perfect. Surely there we would succeed. And we did.

The Western Australia Maritime Museum proudly displays its colorful boating history, including the America’s Cup win in 1983, and even the boat itself.

Australia II sailboat on display
Success! We found the greatest prize of all, Australia II, just as she was when she became the first challenger in 132 years to take the America’s Cup from the New York Yacht Club.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica
There she sails, complete with crew.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

On our way to the museum we were reminded about the Australian prime minister, Bob Hawke, who uttered those infamous words at the successful conclusion of Australia II‘s challenge: “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.” What we didn’t remember is that at the time, Mr Hawke sported a very patriotic-looking jacket.

Bob Hawke's jacket on display
The jacket, made from a tea-towel (dish-towel) pattern, was owned by college student Paul Burnham, who also designed the jacket. Bob Hawke was at the Royal Perth Yacht Club enjoying the celebrations and was due to give a television interview. In a moment of cheek, Burnham managed to pass the jacket to the prime minister to wear for the interview during which he made his long-remembered statement to the Australian public, and the world. Paul Burnham, by the way, went on to complete his studies and become one of Perth’s best-known architects.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Monica

It took us most of the day, but we were happy that we had succeeded in our mission to find the America’s Cup in Fremantle, Western Australia. And while Australia has so far only won the challenge once, we still felt a certain degree of pride and nostalgia as we gazed up at the famous winged-keel boat that almost 40 years ago beat the centuries-long Cup holders.

4 Comments

  1. Rusty B. 2 years ago

    G’day! You missed several other relevant sites while in Perth. We were fortunate to live there for three years and were members of the RPYC while there. The facility you saw locked up in Fremantle was only the club annex. The main facilities are up the Swan River in Perth itself. It really is a beautiful facility with much history, and you would have found much about the Cup on display there, including the starting cannon and a nice wall display with the match “brackets” of all of the RPYC Cup activities, with half hulls representing each boat. Additionally, the flag poles at both the main club house and the Freo Annex are former masts from Australia II. Finally, the gourmet market we used to shop in sometimes, named “The Boatshed”, is in the building where Australia II was built (between Fremantle & Perth), and has photographs, etc. commemorating this. RPYC is a fabulous club with much history, beautiful facilities & location, and many wonderful people. Glad you got to visit Perth! Hopefully you can visit again sometime. I miss it.

    • Monica Grant 2 years ago

      HI Rusty, thanks for the extra info. Perth is a beautiful city and we did consider going to check out the club there as well, but given the time we had available we opted not to. At the time of the Cup races in Fremantle the place was alive with excitement, and it was a little surprising that there wasn’t a lot of obvious acknowledgement of what took place. Oh well … I hope you get back there sometime too!

  2. John deCastro 2 years ago

    In 2019 I visited Perth and Fremantle including the Western Australia Maritime Museum. Other maritime museums in Australia are the National Museum in Sydney and the Bass Straight Museum in Tasmania. I imagine there are others but these three were the ones I visited. Looks like you missed the WA Shipwreck Museum which is a major highlight of the two Maritime museums in Fremantle. I spent hours in the Shipwreck Museum with the docents and staff learning the history of Western Australia. There is even part of the Ship Batavia, a Dutch East Indies Merchant ship that wrecked north of Perth. Look up the Batavia (1628), her replica is in Netherlands. The stories about her are blood chilling tale of skullduggery, greed, mutiny, larceny, murder and more. Batavia story is part of the early lore of Australia. Many were hanged and two of the mutineers were left in Australia (becoming probably the first Europeans on the continent hundreds of years before the convicts in Sydney). They were never heard from again!

  3. Douglas McQuilken 3 months ago

    Hey, just stumbled onto this site seeking information about the America’s Cup Down Under. I have an original set of limited edition prints by the watercolor artist Ingerbrictsen. Purchased them 20 years ago. Recently recovered from my attic – they are still in the original packaging! For additional information, reply to this comment.

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