The Sydney to Hobart yacht race has been cancelled for the first time in its history, with organisers admitting border restrictions forced by Sydney’s coronavirus outbreak made it impossible to stage.
The warm-up races for the 36th America’s Cup kicked off last week in Auckland, New Zealand, with barely a whimper despite Team New Zealand defending the cup it won in Bermuda in 2017 in the familiar surrounds of the Hauraki Gulf.
Only three challengers in Luna Rossa (Italy), Team Ineos (UK) and America Magic have made the long trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud to challenge for the Auld Mug.
With the cup being held in our neighbour’s backyard, it beggars the question: where are the Aussies?
Australia is steeped in America’s Cup tradition. The first Australian boat to challenge the powerful New York Yacht Club for the Cup in 1962 was a 12-metre boat named Gretel. Soundly defeated by the Americans 4-1, the Aussies returned in 1967 (Dame Pattie), 1970 (Gretel II), 1975 (Southern Cross) 1977 (Australia) and 1980 (Australia) suffering successive defeats to the Americans.
Australia’s persistence in repeatedly challenging for the cup finally paid off in the early hours of 27 September 1983 when Australia II crossed the finish line to defeat Liberty USA 4-3. Then Prime Minister Bob Hawke famously declared on national TV that anyone who sacked their staff for being late to work that day was a bum!
Since then Australia’s presence at America’s Cup has been in gradual decline. Kookaburra III meekly surrendered to Stars and Stripes USA off the coast of Fremantle in 1987. Worse was to come in 1995 when John Bertram’s One Australia infamously capsized while racing Team New Zealand.
Increasing costs of participation along with the relaxing of eligibility rules that allow sailors to represent a syndicate outside of their country of nationality have made an Australian bid for the cup financially unviable. The last Australian challenger was Sid Fischer’s Young Australia in 2000, which failed to make the finals.
While there’s no Australian entry at this year’s competition, there’s still the possibility of getting one over our Kiwi neighbours. Jimmy Spithill, the two-time Olympic gold medal winner for Australia, who skippered Young Australia in 2000, returns for his seventh America’s Cup campaign as skipper of Italy’s Luna Rossa.
Spithill famously skippered BMW Oracle Racing (2010) and Team Oracle USA (2013) to America’s Cup victory only to lose to the Kiwis in 2017. Known as the ‘Pitbull’ for his aggressive racing, Spithill will be keen to upset the Kiwis in their own backyard.