Except for the fact that Fremantle has been introduced to that particularly American phenomenon gridlock, not much has changed in the little Western Australian port town on the Indian Ocean in the last month. For the price of a sack of chips you can still buy a picnic table at Cicerello's overlooking Fishing Boat Harbour, and the cappuccinos at Gino's and Papa Luigi's sidewalk cafes are still the best in the Antipodes.
Out on Gage Roads, a 15-mile-wide stretch of water between Fremantle and Rottnest Island, though, everything has changed. The America's Cup trials are finally under way. Long, anxious months of planning gave way to action on Oct. 5, and contrary to most predictions, the cream rose instantly to the top of both the challenger and defender fleets.
America II from the New York Yacht Club, Stars & Stripes from Dennis Conner's San Diego Yacht Club group, and New Zealand, the fiberglass surprise of last winter's 12-meter World Championships, finished the first challenger's round-robin tied at 11 wins and 1 loss, having beaten everybody except one another. Sharing fourth place at 8-4 were USA, the revolutionary front-ruddered design from San Francisco, and Britain's White Crusader. The remaining challengers—Eagle and Heart of America from the U.S., French Kiss and Challenge France from France, Azzurra and Italia from Italy, and Canada II—went back to the drawing board, the boatyard and, in some cases, the bank, to prepare for the second round of trials that began this week. (Courageous, the old lady of the fleet, became the first Cup dropout after finishing 1-11.)
As the challengers were winding down, the six Australian defenders moved out to sea on Oct. 18 for Series A of their 3½ months of trials. Until that first set of races no one on either side of the Pacific had seriously doubted that the first Australian defender of the America's Cup would come from Alan Bond's team of veteran Cup brawlers. America's Cup Defence 1987 Limited, as the Bond syndicate calls itself, had organizational experience earned in four Newport campaigns. It had Ben Lexcen, the self-taught genius who designed the wing-keeled Australia II, winner of the Cup in 1983; it had a nucleus of six crewmen left from the victorious '83 crew, including the skipper of Australia IV, Colin Beashel; it had the backing of Alan Bond's many millions; it had two daunting new boats in Australia III and Australia IV; and it had, in Warren Jones, Bond's tough right arm, the leader who had been credited with winning the America's Cup by manipulating the media and bamboozling the New York Yacht Club's America's Cup Committee in the winged-keel debacle. As the Aussies say, using a cricket metaphor, Bond's syndicate had runs on the board.
As of last week, however, Bond's were not the only runs on the America's Cup scoreboard, and taking note of that fact, Ladbrokes, the London bookmakers, quoted odds on Bond's syndicate winning the Cup at 5 to 1. Quoted at 3 to 1 was Bond's crosstown rival, the Task-force '87 syndicate of Kevin Parry. When Series A ended last week, Parry's Kookaburra III had a 9-1 record, Bond's Australia IV was 8-2, Parry's Kookaburra II was in third place at 7-3, while Australia III finished 4-6. (The two other defender candidates, South Australia and Steak 'N Kidney, had 2-8 and 0-10 records, respectively.) Australians, or at least those who occasionally took their eyes off cricket matches on the telly, were startled by the first-round results. Even Jones was somewhat taken aback. "There's no doubt the Kookaburras are fast," he said. "Even blind Freddy could see that."
The two golden-hulled Kookaburras, which in a certain light resemble two halves of the same banana, were so impressive in the early going that some Australian observers even hinted at the possibility of an all-Kookaburra final in the January defender showdown. One thing is certain, and it is bad news for the remaining 12 Cup challengers: The Australian boat that survives the defender series will have been toughened by combat in nearly four months of trials. Or as Lexcen, designer of the two Australias, put it, "Whoever beats Kookaburra III will win the America's Cup."
There's more to winning the America's Cup than winning, however, and that is Jones's department. Already the famous Jones psych has started. Speaking to Bruce Stannard of The Bulletin, an Australian newsweekly, Jones said of Iain Murray, skipper of Kookaburra III, "One way or another we will get him, and then he will learn what 12-meter campaigning is all about. It's not kindergarten playtime out here. It's not Amateur Hour."
If any sailor in Australia figures to be psych-proof, it is Murray. When the newest Kookaburra (III) beat the newest Australia (IV) by 43 seconds in their first encounter, Murray just smiled. "There's an old saying: 'When the bull——ends, the racing begins,' " he said.
Murray came of age on Sydney Harbour in the rough-and-tumble, blue-collar world of the 18-foot skiff class, where gambling and dirty tricks are endemic. Aside from sailboards, the "eye-deens" are the fastest monohulls in the world. Murray, now 28, has been world champion of the 18-footers six times, beginning when he was 17. Further, although he is not schooled as a naval architect, he has designed practically every boat he has sailed since he was 13. (Interestingly, Lexcen also worked his way to prominence as a designer through the skiff classes in Sydney Harbour. He was national champion in the Eighteens several times beginning in the mid-'60s.)
Murray's patron is Parry who, like Bond, is a self-made multimillionaire Perth businessman. Although it was surely not lost on the 52-year-old Parry that Bond's worth has increased considerably since he became involved in the America's Cup, Parry's initial motive for getting into Cup racing was at least partly patriotic. "When Alan came home from Newport, he said he was worried that if [Bond's syndicate] didn't get some competition it wouldn't be pushed to the limit to defend the Cup properly," Parry recalls. "About that time I was working on our next two-year corporate plan. I asked one of our directors who was a sailor what it took to mount a defense. He said he thought it would cost [close to $4 million], and I said, 'Yes, over three or four years, I reckon that would be a pretty good investment.' " Three years and $13 million later Parry has two viable contenders, and Bond has more competition than he bargained for.
Parry's plan hinged from the beginning on Murray's availability. When Murray agreed to commit three years to Parry's project, to move with his wife, Alex, from Sydney to Perth and to assemble the best people to help design, build and sail the syndicate's boats, Parry gave him carte blanche. He also guaranteed Murray every penny he needed, regardless of whether additional financial support could be found.
Despite the difference in their ages and situations, Parry and his No. 1 skipper are a perfect match. Both are quiet, thorough and demanding, and both are athletes. Parry's sport is baseball, although he was also the Royal Perth Yacht Club's 1978 snooker champion. From 1949 to 1970 Parry played in the amateur Western Australian Baseball League, usually as catcher, sometimes in centerfield and always as leadoff batter. Today Parry sponsors the league he once played in and is the donor of Perth's Parry Field, Australia's only major stadium devoted solely to baseball.
What Parry initially found appealing about Murray was that he was one of the few Australian sailors outside Bond's organization with America's Cup experience, although that experience was nothing to write home about. In Newport in 1983 Murray was helmsman for Advance, a Sydney-based 12-meter syndicate whose poor performance on the water was surpassed only by the ineptitude of its organization ashore. "I learned how not to do it from the Advance campaign," says Murray. "It was invaluable experience. There's nothing better than learning the hard way, which is losing every day."
When Advance was eliminated from the trials in '83, Murray offered his services to the Bond organization. In the crucial last weeks before the Cup got under way, it was Murray and his crew from Advance, now aboard Challenge 12, who drilled the Australia II crew in match-racing starts and who worked long hours ashore to help keep the boats in racing shape. The fact that the contribution of the Advance crew to Australia II's historic victory was never publicly acknowledged by the Bond people makes every win by a Kookaburra over a Bond boat that much sweeter for Murray. He even allows himself a smile once in a while, "a smirky smile," says Alex Murray. An "I've-got-something-up-my-sleeve kind of look."
Peter Gilmour, the 26-year-old helmsman on Kookaburra II, tells the story of one of Murray's slicker moves. The newest Kooka (III) was launched in early August. After a month and a half of testing, the syndicate decided she could be improved by adding a new stern section. This meant hauling the boat out of the water and transporting her across Fremantle to the syndicate's boatyard in North Fremantle, where she would be sawed in half and have a new stern attached. To avoid the negative press speculation that such operations always generate, Murray switched boats in the dead of night. On Sept. 20, while Kooka III was being driven to the yard, the syndicate's benchmark boat, Kookaburra I, which had been at the yard for alterations, was driven to the syndicate dock at Fremantle Boatlifters. There, with the addition of two Roman numerals, Kooka I passed for Kooka III for three weeks.
"When people asked us when Kooka I was coming back, we just avoided the question," says Gilmour. "It was a shrewd move. We didn't need any undue pressure at the time."
Murray put Gilmour in charge of assembling the boat crews while he went after the brains that every 12-meter syndicate needs these days. Two early recruits were an American and an Englishman. Chris Todter, 37, is from Boyne City, Mich. He moved to Australia in 1980 after a five-year stint with the Bendix Corp. in Southfield, Mich., where he was a computer specialist working on missile guidance systems. "I liked the technology," says Todter, "but not the end product."
In Sydney, Todter met Murray and did some work in the preliminary stages of the ill-fated Advance project. "I did the instrumentation and developed the analysis systems," Todter says, "but I never went to Newport. The syndicate head wanted me to buy my own way over, and I said forget it."
Using a Digital Equipment Corp. VAX-11/750 number-crunching computer, Todter devised techniques for analyzing quickly the tidal wave of data generated by the computers aboard the 12-meters during practice. At the same time, he developed four-screen graphic displays for the cockpit terminals. Astounding feats are performed by Todter's machines, feats such as predicting, within 30 minutes, the arrival of the Fremantle Doctor, as the afternoon sea breeze is called, plus the wind's strength and direction and the best course to sail through it—all several hours in advance of the day's race.
Todter has been assisted in his work by five graduate students from the Western Australia Institute of Technology who are funded by the syndicate and are using their research for Todter as their theses. "We have formed a joint venture with WAIT," says Todter. "It's called the Center for Marine Science and Technology, and it will be an ongoing benefit even after the Cup is over, funding research and probably some facilities as well."
Derek Clark, the Englishman, first met Murray during 1983 when Clark, who is trained in nuclear physics and electrical engineering, was working for Victory '83, a British syndicate. "As it happened," says the 35-year-old Clark, "we were fighting over the use of a welding machine in a rather obscure boatyard about 30 miles out of Newport."
Clark's title in the Kookaburra group is engineering systems manager. "That means analyzing how we utilize highly technological pieces of equipment on the boat in a sailing environment," he says. In an earlier era, Clark would have been called the navigator.
"Iain and I are alike," says Clark of Kookaburra III's skipper, "in that both of us are less interested in having our names in lights than in actually just going out and doing it."
The Kookaburra roster now numbers about 100. The crews live in attractive new town houses on Grey Street in Fremantle. Parry expects the houses will sell, when the Cup is over, for about $85,000 each. Life in the Kookaburra crew quarters is less regimented than in some syndicates. Wives and girlfriends live there too, and crewmen can take their meals with their families. When the working day is over, those who are able to can do as they please—no rules, no curfews.
"Some of the groups try to turn into commando-type operations," says Clark, in an obvious reference to the Bond syndicate. "I think that shows a mental age of about 10: 'We melt them down and mold them in the morning.' That's pathetic. I mean, you don't treat people as objects. The time between 20 and 30 is when you're free and you can do crazy things, and some of these guys are giving up two years, 20 percent, of their free young lives. That's a lot to give up."
For now, nobody on the Kookaburra dock is complaining about anything. Murray goes about his business with Cliff, his doting mutt, at his heels, just as if he were not a 28-year-old in charge of a $13 million high-risk venture that is looking very good. Only a smirky smile now and then gives him away.