September 26, 1983, about 1700 on Rhode Island Sound. Unless you were sailing in the early 1980s or are an aficionado of international business capers gone south, there’s no reason why that time and location or the name Alan Bond ought to resonate. If either of the above criteria applies, the man universally known as Bondy needs no introduction. The fireball of a man who changed the course of sailing, at least the America’s Cup, died 02 June of complications following heart surgery.
Bondy sits atop a long list of gentlemen and characters involved in the America’s Cup as the first winner to take it from the New York Yacht Club. He could be at times the former and was always the latter. I worked for him as the boat captain on Australia (NOT Australia 1) from July 1979 through October 1980, and his crossing the bar brought back some memories of this time with him and others who had known him.
Many of the challengers for the oldest trophy in sport were dignified and gentlemanly and were challenging for The Sport. Sir Frank Packer, who mounted Australia’s first challenge in 1962 (In a portent of things to come, Gretel won a race), is reported to have said in response why he was challenging for the America’s Cup, “too much port and delusions of grandeur.” Bondy was not interested in The Sport; he challenged to avenge a slight.
Bondy was not a sailor from youth, having come to like sailing later in life. He sailed, but I’m not certain he was a sailor in the sense you could turn him loose on your Laser and expect him to sail it across the bay and back. Anyway, he had had Bob Miller (aka Ben Lexcen) design a boat called Apollo. She was a 60-foot speedster that would not look out of place today. The lore on how Bondy got wind of the Cup has it as follows.
In 1972 Bondy and Miller were in Derecktor’s yard in Mamaroneck, NY, en route to Newport for the Newport Bermuda Race, in which he had entered Apollo. They were wandering around looking at boats, taking in the scene and the current designs. As was perfectly normal in Australia at the time, they clambered aboard a yacht to have a look around. During the course of this inspection a reasonable-sized block of depleted uranium on two legs and further disguised as a human in the employ, it transpired, of the New York Yacht Club, came storming down the dock demanding to know what the (expletive deleted) they were doing and demanding their immediate disembarkation. Bondy, not one to slink from battle, responded in kind. As they ultimately left the DMZ, Bondy inquired of Bob what the guy was upset over. Bob introduced Bondy to the fact they’d been aboard one of the 12 Metres used in the America’s Cup. “What’s that?” Bondy asked. Bob described the Cup. “Design me a 12 Metre. I’m gonna win the America’s Cup and run it over with a road roller and make it the America’s Plate.” Thus began 11 years of Bondy’s Challenges.
Bob designed what became Southern Cross. Stealth was a component of Bondy’s M.O. well before the invisible keel on Australia 2, as Southern Cross was built in a secure shed in Sydney and trucked across country to Yanchep Sun City. Where? Bondy’s real estate development project in the sand dunes of the same name, about an hour north of Perth, was about as close as you could get to a secure undisclosed location. Southern Cross and the 1970 challenger (another race winner albeit tossed after losing a protest) Gretel 2 that Bondy purchased, trialed together. Sailing offshore in the Yanchep version of the Freo Doctor (i.e. blowing lobsters out of their traps on a daily basis), the longer Southern Cross showed great form against Gretel 2. Bondy got ahead of the curve with the PR, declaring the Cup as good as won. Southern Cross tanked 0-4 to Courageous. He immediately told the world this was just a warm-up regatta and he was coming back to win.
Monty Python wrote a song about Bondy: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” In a related piece of Bondy lore, the 12 Metre that became Courageous was built also in metal because Southern Cross was (the first to be) built in aluminum and The Keepers of The Cup were nervous about this. This snippet is unknown as a fact, or at least unconfirmed, by prominent Newport Water Rat Andy McGowan, who was at Sparkman & Stephens at the time.
At some point in this Southern Cross challenge there was sufficient infrastructure on the Yanchep waterfront for the boat to be hauled. As an indication of the rustic nature of not only Yanchep but Australian sailing in general and the America’s Cup Challenges in particular, Southern Cross had no dedicated full time tender. She was, as I recall (in a tale related by Jack Baxter – her navigator. and ours in 1980), towed out by any nearby lobster boat they could hail and on occasion sailed into the docks.
Remember I said Bondy was not (really) a sailor…? On one occasion when he was on board – he had put himself in as a grinder – he took the helm for the sail in. The drill was to sail into the basin at a speed to give enough way to make it to the docks, while lowering the sails. Think about sailing a 12 Metre into, for instance, the inner basins at Newport Shipyard. Bondy, of course, came in too fast and managed to run into the head of the dock which was concrete and attached to the rest of Australia, crushing the bow of the boat for some distance aft and putting sailing on hold for a while. In the form that Bondy was then known for and was later exposed to the rest of the world, he got off the boat, looked over his shoulder and said, “Get it fixed” and walked away.
During the time I was in Freo, Bondy lived in a mansion on the edge of the Swan River. It was a vast edifice with one whole floor for cars, of which there were many. This manor was known among the crew as Toad Hall. If you have never seen Bondy in full flight on something about which he was passionate, read Wind in the Willows. He was known as the giver of huge parties, one of which was themed around a Roman orgy. Pictures of Bondy in toga show a man who would’ve been right at home in the Imperial Roman senate and baths.
There were a number of stories wafting around the Internet after Bondy’s passing, some fairly scathing about his business practices. He did in fact spend some time in prison for fraud, but on a grand scale, assuming just over a billion dollars is a grand scale for corporate fraud.
The America’s Cup has never been a venue for the feint of heart or conformists. Ignoring the skullduggery Bondy got up to in the boardroom, “Our World” has lost a colorful and signature character, the man who liberated the America’s Cup from the New York Yacht Club. There could be only one man to do that, and it’s fitting that it was Bondy.
Disclaimer: This column will be seen by some in Oz who were with Bondy a lot longer than I, and on Australia 2. To you I say, these stories I did hear and this essay is presented as a sketch of my exposure to Bondy and his lore.
Australian born, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper stayed in the US after the 1980 America’s Cup where he was the boat captain and sailed as Grinder/Sewer-man on Australia. His whole career has focused on sailing, especially the short-handed aspects of it. He lives in Middletown, RI where he coaches, consults and writes on his blog, joecoopersailing.com, when not paying attention to his wife, teenage son, dog, two cats and several, mainly small, boats.