The legitimacy of Australia's famous America's Cup victory in 1983 was yesterday put in doubt after yacht designer Peter van Oossanen claimed he had designed the winged keel. The Dutchman yesterday said it was he - and not the Australian Ben Lexcen - who was to be credited for the ground-breaking design. It was the design that won accolades after Australia II's win over Liberty in the series. Van Oossanen said Lexcen played only a minor part in developing the keel, adding that he and fellow Dutchman Joop Slooff - an aerodynamics expert - were the brains behind the design.
Van Oossanen said Lexcen, who died in 1988, contributed about 10 per cent of the development work. If true, that would make Australia II's victory illegitimate, as America's Cup rules at the time said the design work must be done by nationals of the entrant country. Australia became the first challenger in 132 years to beat the United States in an America's Cup series when Australia II, helmed by John Bertrand, beat the American defender Liberty, sailed by Dennis Conner, 4-3 in a best-of-seven final off Newport, Rhode Island.
The Australian yacht trailed 3-1 before winning three straight races, ending what has been called the longest winning streak in sport. Lexcen has been celebrated by Australians ever since as the architect of the victory, the man behind the design breakthrough which gave Australia II its winning edge, and even had a Toyota car named after him. "Ben was a nice guy. He had a flair for things, a flair for shapes. But he wasn't a scientist and he wasn't able to understand the full physics of what was going on," he said.
"He left to go back to Australia on June 20 1981, before the vital tank tests. The role he played was a minor one." He said Lexcen had privately acknowledged the Dutch design role. Bertrand rallied to Lexcen's defence, saying that while other members of the design team made a contribution, Lexcen was the chief designer. "Without Ben, there is no way the total design solution of the winged keel could have come together," he added.
The Australian sailing writer Rob Mundle - who wrote Bond's biography and covered the 1983 Cup - also disputed van Oossanen's claim. * With agencies