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1983 - Australia II – KA 6

1983 - Australia II – KA 6
"The day of her maiden voyage was a major occasion. The place was packed, and Benny (Ben Lexcen) was floating somewhere between the dock and seventh heaven. It was a heart-warming sight. Here was this huge, good-natured, slightly chaotic man, who can swear like a drunken bushwhacker, walking around as if on air, with his arms often spread wide before his new creation, as if conducting a Vivaldi concerto. In his considered view, Australia II made all other boats seems ugly."

That's John Bertrand, the skipper of Australia II, describing with the benefit of hindsight, the launching of what would become the first challenger to win the America's Cup after 132 years of futility. Although he was enthusiastic when he wrote the passage above, Bertrand was nothing of the sort when the drawings and model of Australia II were first presented to him in the spring of 1981. The design was decidedly unusual with it's upside down, winged keel, and it would take all of the enthusiasm of Lexcen and team owner Alan Bond to overcome Bertrand's initial skepticism.

To this day there remains some controversy over the origin of the famous winged keel of Australia II. The brilliant idea was to fix the 'upside-down' winged appendage to the hull of the boat. But how did it happen? In 1980, the NYYC authorised the Australians to use the Dutch testing tank at Wageningen. Lexcen spent four months there at the beginning of 1981, with Dutch engineers Peter Van Oossanen and Joop W. Sloff. Ben designed the drawings of Challenge 12, a conventional design, after having tested seven models (one-third scale), and then he moved on to Australia II (more than 400 tests, calculations of the keel in 3 D, several hundred hours of simulations). The result was surprising: the boat was faster than a conventional 12-metre and Alan Bond took the risk to build Australia II.

"The day of her maiden voyage was a major occasion. The place was packed, and Benny (Ben Lexcen) was floating somewhere between the dock and seventh heaven."
John Bertrand
During her maiden sail, John Bertrand discovered the exceptional maneuverability of the boat. There were several reasons for this: the bustle had almost disappeared; the 'inverted' keel; the existence of thick fins fixed on each side of the keel and angled down at about 20-degrees (which increases the draft when heeling reducing leeway and increasing 'stiffness' - how a boat stands up to the wind). This approach appreciably decreased the wetted surface of Australia II compared to any other 12-metre. Due to this, Lexcen had created a "light" displacement boat with the shortest waterline ever measured on a 12-metre.

The performance of Australia II was also aided by the talent of New Zealand sailmaker Tom Schnackenberg who took care of the entire sail programme (40 genoas, 10 mainsails, fifty spinnakers). The crew was made up of the best sailors in Australia, with Olympic medals and previous Cup experience to their credit. It was this cocktail that explained the record: 48 wins in 55 races sailed by Australia II during the 1983 season.

In 1983, the challenger also benefited from the support of the press and the public. The chaste 'modesty' skirt of green canvas which shrouded the underbody after every race certainly incited the curiosity of everyone. Then, the early success of Australia II in the Louis Vuitton Cup only added to the craze. The late and fruitless machinations of the NYYC to demonstrate that the keel was not an Australian invention or that it did not fit the letter of the design rule only added to the mystery of the moment and strengthened the resolve of the men aboard Australia II to take the Cup away for the very first time.

Having served as trial horse for the defense at Fremantle in 1986, the boat was on display in the National Maritime Museum of Sydney. In the 1990s, the State government of Western Australia succeeded in getting Australia II back. The crew was re-united to sail her again in the historic regatta celebrating the Jubilee anniversary of the America's Cup at Cowes, in August 2001. Australia II is now among the collections of the Western Australian Maritime Museum at Fremantle!

J.T. / pr


» Circling Galaxy: Australia II - KA 6

Sail number: KA 6
Royal Perth Yacht Club
Challenger, winner of the 25th America's Cup 1983 (won the 7th and final race, sailed on September 26, 1983)

Original owner: America's Cup Challenge 1983, Alan Bond (Royal Perth Yacht Club).

12 Meter International Rule, sloop

Builder: Steve E. Ward & Co., Perth, Cottesloe, Australia.
Sailmaker: Tom "Schnacks" Schnackenberg, sail coordinator. North, Hood, Sobstad Australia.

Designer: Ben Lexcen.
Research facilities & tank tests: Netherlands Ship Model Basin - NSMB - at Wageningen, the Netherlands. Peter Van Oossanen. Models built on 1/3rd scale, 24-foot models, instead of 8-foot models used for Australia I (1977) at the Delft Tank Model Basin, Netherlands, by Johan Valentijn and Ben Lexcen.
Hydrodynamics: Joop W. Sloff from Theorythical Aerodynamic Department of the National Aerospace Laboratory, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Built: started in 1981, finished in 1982 after 8 month build programme.
Launched: June 3rd, 1982.
Christened: June 6th, 1982 by Eileen Bond at Fremantle, Sailing Club in Success Harbour.
Original Skipper: John Edwin Bertrand
Tactician: Hugh Treharne
Navigator: Grant Simmer
Crew: 11.

Hull material: aluminum
Mast: aluminum, fabricated by Steve Ward from Ben Lexcen's designs.
Boom: carbon fiber, weighing 32 kilos (2 built)
Sails: kevlar/mylar laminated
Keel: lead, designed by Ben Lexcen. Mould built in Sydney. Keel cast at Perth in one piece. Lexcen applied for patents for his keel on February 5th, 1982 at the International Patents Office in The Hague. He had previously tried wings on dinghies and 5.5 Meter.

LOA: 19.21 m
LWL: 13.10 m
Beam: 3.64 m
Draft: 2.72 m
Sail Area: 175 m2
Displacement: 21.8 tons
Rating: 12-Meter

Owned by The America's Cup Defence 1987 Ltd., "Bond Syndicate" of the Royal Perth YC.


On display at the National Maritime Museum, Sydney, Australia, then on display at the Western Australian Maritime Museum, Fremantle, Western Australia.


The America's Cup Jubilee at Cowes, Isle of Wight, the regatta sailed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the America's Cup in August 2001 was scheduled to be the final regatta for Australia II. Came second (twelve meter fleet) in the historic "Round the Island" 2001 race. Australia II was given the honour of being named the yacht that had brought the greatest benefit to the sport of yachting by participating in the America's Cup Jubilee Regatta.

Since 2001 till now
Australia II is the centerpiece of the new Western Australian Maritime Museum, in her home port of Fremantle.