sail-world.com
 
 
News Home Video Gallery Photo Gallery

 

Sail-World.com : Australia II - John Rousmaniere reflects on that winged keel

Australia II - John Rousmaniere reflects on that winged keel

'The man whose name is synonymous with the winged keel, Ben Lexcen was the most prolific Cup designer over the five-match period that ran from 1974 through 1987.'    Rolex
Noted America's Cup historian, John Rousmaniere reflects on the current brouhaha over the designer of Australia II's winged keel.

The issue of who designed Australia II has come to the forefront once again (and more angrily than ever, it seems). It last arose four years ago when I wrote an article for the American magazine Sailing World titled 'Who Designed Australia II?'

The story was stimulated by a particular question by a particular group, the America's Cup Hall of Fame Selection Committee. The Hall of Fame is not (as the Sydney Morning Herald reported) an entity of the New York Yacht Club. It is an arm of another institution altogether, the Herreshoff Marine Museum, the repository of the works and archives of Nathanael Greene Herreshoff in Bristol, RI. More about the museum and the Hall of Fame may be found at http://www.herreshoff.org/


Back then, when I spoke or corresponded with some 40 people, including Peter Van Oossanen, about the boat's design history, I was representing the Hall of Fame as a one-man subcommittee attempting to gain some insight into a well-known, 20-year-old controversy involving a candidate whose nomination had stalled in the selection committee, Ben Lexcen. To revive the nomination (which I backed), I believed the best thing to do was to ask some questions and file a report. I worked exactly as I do when I write books and articles—going down the middle, following the research trail, and sorting opinion from fact.

After my report (which was later published in Sailing World), the selection committee elected Lexcen into the Hall of Fame with only one dissenter, who was not me. While we differed over some details, the majority agreed that Lexcen deserved the honor because of his long involvement with the America’s Cup, because of his brilliance, and because of Australia II, to which he contributed in many, many ways. There may be arguments about what exactly those contributions were. Yet it is no small thing in someone’s biography to have taken such a leading role in such a project. This boat changed yachts forever—in its shape, in its rigging, in its sails, and in its racing record.

I wish the whole bitter argument surrounding this matter would go away. I suspect that it would if some credit were given to the individual Dutch researchers for their roles in the team. Yes, the extent of those roles may be in dispute. But the fact of them is not. Reckoning time is passing too quickly to be wasted in bickering over credits.

The story to which John Rousmaniere refers is as follows:

In 1983 an Australian team ended the New York YC’s grip on the America’s Cup in a breakthrough 12-Meter famous for its winged keel. That pivotal moment in sailing history has long since passed, yet there remains a long-running dispute about the roles taken in the design of this remarkable boat by the designer of record, Ben Lexcen, and his technical team.

As a member of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame selection committee, I know this controvery well. After many years of heated debate concerning the merits of selecting Lexcen, in 2004 I volunteered to serve as a committee of one answering the question, 'Who designed Australia II?'

Over a year and a half I reviewed the record while soliciting statements from dozens of people. In October 2005 I presented a report to the committee, which then selected Lexcen for the Hall of Fame.

Before proceeding, I should disclose that I am a long-time, but hardly lockstep, member of the New York YC. As a writer I strive to be fair, and I long ago recognized that nothing in the America’s Cup is as simple as it first seems.

It is clear that Australia II was the creation of a brilliant international design team, headed by Ben Lexcen. Other answers to our question have tended to follow two opposite paths. One leads to the conviction that the designer of record, Lexcen, was also the designer in fact, meaning that he conceptualized Australia II’s three distinctive features: a small hull, a small 'upside-down' keel, and the winglets on that keel.

Three reasons have been given: First, Lexcen, the boat’s owner, Alan Bond, and other members of the Australia II team said as much during and after the controversy-ridden 1983 America’s Cup summer. Second, Lexcen had long experimented with several of Australia II’s features. Some of his Australian 18s, model boats, and other designs had wing-like endplates and unusually small fins.When he worked on the design for Bond’s 1977 Cup challenger, Australia, he and his associate, Johan Valentijn, tested wings and a keel 15 to 20 percent smaller than the norm before doubts about the accuracy of the tank tests led them back to more conventional shapes.

The third reason many people give for concluding that Lexcen must have designed Australia II is the man himself. Bob Fisher, the English sailing journalist (and America’s Cup Hall of Fame Selection Committee member), characterized Lexcen’s talent this way: 'Outrageous in its naiveté, fundamental in its approach, and gloriously effective in its delivery.'

Grant Simmer, who sailed in Australia II and now helps run the Alinghi campaign, told me, 'As a yacht designer with his small boat and skiff background, he was intuitively one of the best I have worked with (even if not technically the best, given his background).' Simmer’s last words refer to the fact that Lexcen dropped out of school at the age of 14.

People who knew Lexcen before his death in 1988, at age 52, have affectionately described him as brilliant, chaotic, loveable, and extravagant. Here is the man who ended a former business relationship by changing his name from prosaic Robert Clyde Miller to the more dramatic Ben Lexcen (the inspiration is still in dispute). 'He has the most glorious flights of fancy,'

John Bertrand, Australia II’s skipper, wrote of Lexcen in 1985, 'always talking about the depths of the oceans, about dolphins and other great fishes.My children love him, because in a sense he is very like them, full of wonderment at a world he believes is probably undiscovered.'

A journalist who spent several tumultuous days with Lexcen, Jay Broze, called him 'the sailing world’s undisputed champion of free association' and a man with 'his own personal brand of reminiscent hyperbole.' This caution can easily be forgotten in the natural rush to believe only such an outrageously original individual could have produced such an outrageously original boat. If the first path through the thicket of the Australia II design question is a sprint to this remarkable man—more Romantic poet than engineer—the second is a methodical pace into the realm of two Dutch scientists with advanced degrees who worked in cutting-edge test facilities in the Netherlands.

These are Dr. Peter van Oossanen, a naval architect at the Netherlands Ship Model Basin (NSMB), and Joop Slooff, an aerodynamicist at the Theoretical Aerodynamics Department of the National Aerospace Laboratory While Lexcen often portrayed them as advisors who followed his direction, the two scientists have described their relationship as one of partners. In their view, Lexcen gets high marks not for creating the design but for managing it—for recognizing the possibilities, for helping to persuade Alan Bond that he must build this crazy-looking boat, for designing the rig and construction plan, and, for working with Bertrand, the New Zealand sail designer Tom Schnackenberg, and the rest of the crew to refine Australia II.

Here it helps to appreciate the stakes that were at play at the genesis of Australia II in the spring of 1981. In Bond’s previous Cup challenges in 1974, 1977, and 1980, he had spent small fortunes sending innovative Lexcen-designed boats to Newport only to watch them destroyed by defenders. Bond’s boats sailed a total of 13 races in Cup matches and lost 12 of them. To compound his disappointment, each American defender was a




by John Rousmaniere

  

Click on the FB Like link to post this story to your FB wall

http://www.sail-world.com/index.cfm?nid=62280

11:45 AM Thu 15 Oct 2009 GMT






Click here for printer friendly version
Click here to send us feedback or comments about this story.

Click for further information on
2013 America's Cup

Related News Stories:

16 Apr 2014  America's Cup: Expected de Ridder penalty should be reduced
14 Apr 2014  America's Cup: Dean Barker's Blog - A sail with the Duke and Duchess
12 Apr 2014  America's Cup: Coutts claims ISAF Jury on a crusade, backs Kiwi report
10 Apr 2014  America's Cup: Two Kiwis escape hometown action in AC45 rules ruckus
03 Apr 2014  34th America's Cup: A Match of three weeks - Part 3 - Under the Pump
01 Apr 2014  34th America's Cup: A Match of three weeks - Part 1 - Regaining time
08 Mar 2014  Fast foils-a conversation with Paul Bieker, part two
03 Mar 2014  America's Cup- Fast foils-a conversation with Paul Bieker, part I
19 Jan 2014  America's Cup: CNN Mainsail Down Under on the state of the Cup
16 Jan 2014  America's Cup: Jobson goes one on one with Jimmy Spithill (Part 5)
MORE STORIES ...

News - USA and the World





































America's Cup Book Review: Winging It - Oracle Team USA's comeback *Feature by Richard Gladwell Sail-World.com/nz,




Rolex China Sea Race 2014 - nip and tuck for IRC honours by RHKYC and Guy Nowell, Sail-World Asia, Hong Kong


























HUD Vision: An interview with Afterguard Marine’s Alex Moret *Feature
ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyeres - US Sailing Team ready for action
Volvo Ocean Race - Dongfeng Race Team first official qualifier
Springtime boat buyers need to take care of a few key things
ISAF Match Race Rankings for 16 April 2014
ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyeres – World’s best to race on French Riviera
Rolex China Sea Race – Fleet off to a clean start
America's Cup: Expected de Ridder penalty should be reduced *Feature
World Youth Sailing Week – Second edition officially presented + Video
Rolex China Sea Race - Sailing classic returns
Les Voiles de St Barth – Fired up for battle
CNN Mainsail Down Under for the 75th JJ Giltinan Trophy - 18ft skiffs
Volvo Ocean Race: North Sails on outfitting the Volvo 65
Image gallery: James Cook High's Royal encounter on Steinlager 2 *Feature
Volvo Ocean Race - Maersk Line named shipping partner
Congressional Cup - Victory for Taylor Canfield and crew
SSV Oliver Hazard Perry joins America's Tall Ship fleet + Video
2014 Halifax – Saint-Pierre Ocean Race
Oyster Regatta Antigua - Glorious conditions prevail on final day
WWA Pro Card Qualifier - Pro Cards earned at Freedom Wake Park
Christmas Caribbean Rally - Top class sailors to compete   
Earth Day boater tips   
Anna Tunnicliffe - from CrossFit to Extreme 40's   
Charleston Race Week - Photos by Chris Howell   
Image Gallery: Stratis SL33 flies on the Waitemata   
Audi Melges 20- Sperry Topsider Charleston Race Week - Light final day   
Clipper Round the World Yacht Race - PSP Logistics prepares for USA   
ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères - Crème of the crop to compete   
Congressional Cup: Luna Rossa makes podium in first event   
Int 14 World Championships 2015 launch new event website   
International Optimist Regatta Clinic and Team Race - Register now!   
Congressional Cup: World top rankers finish that way in Long Beach   
Sperry Top-Sider Charleston Race Week Day 3 finale   
America's Cup: Gino Morrelli outlines the new AC62 design   
Doyle Sails New Zealand signs Andrew Brown as One Design Manager   
America's Cup: Dean Barker's Blog - A sail with the Duke and Duchess *Feature   
29er World Youth Sailing Week Easter regatta - Day 1 and 2 overall   
C Thomas Clagett Jr Memorial Clinic/Regatta - Entries start to roll in   
50th Congressional Cup: See the delayed coverage and media conferences   
Clipper Race 10 Day 27: Closing stages - Qingdao to San Francisco   


For this week's complete news stories select    Last 7 Days
   Search All News
For last month's complete news stories select    Last 30 Days
   Archive News







Sail-World.com  


















Switch Default Region to:

Social Media

Asia

Australia

Canada

Europe

New Zealand

United Kingdom


http://www.sail-world.com/event_images/image/Twitter_logo_small.png http://www.sail-world.com/event_images/image/FaceBook-icon.png  http://www.sail-world.com/event_images/image/RSS-Icon.png

United States

Cruising Northern

Cruising Southern

MarineBusiness World

PowerBoat World

FishingBoating World

 

Contact

Commercial

News

Search

Contact Us

Advertisers Information

Submit news/events

Search Stories/Text

Feedback

Advertisers Directory

Newsletter Archive

Photo Gallery

 

Banner Advertising Details

Newsletter Subscribe

Video Gallery

Policies

 

 

 

Privacy Policy

 

 


Cookie Policy

 

 



This site and its contents are © Copyright TetraMedia and/or the original author, photographer etc. All Rights Reserved.  Photographs are copyright by law.  If you wish to use or buy a photograph contact the photographer directly.
X6XL WAS US