Remarks on Greeting the Crew of Stars & Stripes, the America's Cup Winner

February 9, 1987

The President. Well, Stars & Stripes skipper Dennis Conner, members of the crew, and ladies and gentlemen, today the Cup that went down under has come back up. It's only appropriate to be greeting the skipper and crew of the Stars & Stripes here in front of the Stars and Stripes.

And by the way, you might be interested to know that Prime Minister Hawke of Australia and I had a little bet on the side. [Laughter] If Kookaburra III had won, I was going to give the Prime Minister one of those cowboy-type hats that I wear now and then out at the ranch. And if you all won, well -- oh, there it is! [Laughter] It'll be revealed. There it is. That's the Australian version. And you know, it's the funniest thing -- I just know that whenever I put that on I'm going to find myself turning to Nancy and saying, ``G'bye, mate.'' [Laughter]

But there are so many people who helped to make this victory possible. Altogether, the United States was represented by six syndicates in Australia. Each had its own yachts, and each involved literally hundreds of people, bringing the best of American technology to bear on the complicated challenges of 12-meter racing. In designing Stars & Stripes herself, engineers used computer techniques to provide the yacht with a winged keel and a special rounded nose. Plastics experts gave the hull a coating that sheeted the yacht with thousands of tiny V-shaped grooves called riblets. Sailmakers used a mixture of Kelvar, Mylar, and an entirely new fabric, Spectra, to produce hundreds of sails suited to every conceivable weather condition. And Stars & Stripes was fitted with an on-board computer to monitor her performance and communicate before the race with computers on shore and in her tender. I just have to believe it says something about the competitiveness of American technology that this time around the United States entered perhaps the best designed, most technologically advanced, 12-meter yacht ever christened.

But no matter how sleek the yacht, it still all comes down to what the skipper and crew do with her on the open ocean. To the skipper, the navigator, tactician, mainsail trimmer, pitman, bowman, sewerman, grinders, and trimmers of Stars & Stripes: Congratulations! You performed up to the highest standards in conditions that were arduous and exhausting, and you made considerable sacrifices to do so.

And now, if you'll permit me, a word to the skipper himself, Dennis Conner. Dennis, in 1983 you sailed against the Australian challenger in what was universally acknowledged to be a slower boat. But your skills as a sailor were such that you forced the challengers to go all seven races before Australia II finally took the America's Cup. In the races off Fremantle, you showed your skill all over again. During the challenger final race against New Zealand, Stars & Stripes blew a jib. To many skippers, it would have been cause for panic, but you only said, ``Hey, that's too bad.''

Mr. Conner. That's not all I said. [Laughter]

The President. All that you said that was printable was, ``Hey, that's too bad.'' [Laughter] But then, while your crew scrambled to replace the bad sail, you calmly tacked to keep your opponent from gaining the wind. And in 3 minutes and 2 seconds both the new jib and jig were up, and Stars & Stripes won the race.

In the finals themselves -- well, there's no better way to describe your performance than to quote the skipper you defeated, Australian Ian Murray. At the suggestion that Stars & Stripes had simply had better luck, skipper Murray answered: ``I'm not a great believer in luck in sailing. The wind Dennis left us was pretty much zilch. He won because he was always in the right spot.''

Beyond your skill, Dennis, there's the matter of your commitment, the matter, to put it simply, of heart. One of your crewmen caught a glimpse of just how much it all meant to you. In his words: ``Before the last tack Dennis said, `Okay, guys, this is the last tack in the 1987 America's Cup.' I turned around and looked back, and he was crying. He had tears in his eyes.'' And the crewman went on to explain: ``You have to remember that this hasn't been any gravy walk for Dennis. He's a regular American guy, a smart guy who worked his way up from the bottom and deserves the credit for what he's done.'' Well, Dennis, today we congratulate you, and today we give you that credit.

Mr. Conner. Thank you.

The President. And a word now to your Australian hosts and competitors. Ambassador and Mrs. Dalrymple, of course, millions of Australians must be disappointed by the outcome of these races, just as so many Americans felt the 1983 loss so keenly. But I want you to know that I've heard again and again, from Dennis and others, that the Australian people could not have been more open, friendly, or sportsmanlike. On behalf of the thousands of Americans who visited Australia for these races, I want to thank Prime Minister Hawke, the Perth Yacht Club, and the Australian people themselves.

I can't help thinking that the America's Cup has brought our two nations, already close, still closer. For in following these races, we were all able to share something ancient and deep within us: man's fascination with wind and water. Listen, if you will, to the words of sportswriter Tony Chamberlain: ``In sailing there is a term called `lift' which is both technical and poetic at once. It describes the moment of acceleration in a sailboat -- the moment when the sails harden against the wind and the boat begins to slide forward, faster and faster, until you can suddenly feel what William Buckley meant by the title of his sailing book, ``Airborne.'' How something moving so slowly -- about the pace of a moderate jog -- can impart such exhilaration in this moment is probably unanswerable. Hang gliding, dropping in a parachute, doing barrel rolls in a light airplane -- the thrills are easy to understand. But the moment of lift in a sailboat is just as much a leap off the Earth. Airborne.'' Well, gentlemen of the Stars & Stripes, for a few days you enabled us all to become airborne, and we thank you.

Mr. Conner. Thank you, Mr. President. As you might remember, I got a phone call from you back in 1983, and Tom answered the phone, I think. And he said, ``The President's on the phone, and he wants to tell you that you fouled up.'' [Laughter] That's the printed version, anyway. [Laughter] Well, you might remember that I made you a personal promise at that time to do everything I could to bring the Cup back home to America, where it belongs. So, here it is.

This is not only a victory for the great crew and team of Stars & Stripes; it's a victory for American technology, a victory for the American will to compete anywhere in the world, and I might say, and be able to win. It's really a victory for the American spirit, of which you've done such a tremendous job to be our leader. And I can't tell you how much it means to the entire team and support crew of Stars & Stripes to be part of this tremendous victory in bringing the Cup back home, where it belongs. And I'd just like to say thank you all for the tremendous reception that we got. We had no idea what it would be like when we got home. We were 12,000 miles away, and we were just concentrating on winning the Cup. And it just meant so much for us to come back and have this tremendous reception. And we just can't tell you how great it is to be back home in America. It really means a lot to see all of our friends and supporters to be with us in this tremendous victory.

So, at this time -- I'm trying to remember all my lines -- Bob Hawke made sure that he sent me a little message to go along with your Cup here. And I'll find it in just a second. [Laughter] Don't worry now. It says, ``My Dear Ron: Enjoy the hat. You can keep it.'' Well, that's nice of him, there. ``Take pleasure in the Cup, but remember it's only a temporary possession and we'll be back to get it in 1990. Congratulations and best wishes, Bob Hawke, Prime Minister.'' So, congratulations!

And I'd just like to take a moment and add to the President's comments about what tremendous people the Australians were. In defeat, they couldn't have been more gracious, and they just were wonderful sportsmanship. And any of you that have the chance to visit Australia will find out for yourself, but I'm sure anyone you talk to on the Stars & Stripes group will tell you and reaffirm what tremendous people they were in Western Australia. And they were really part of the whole Cup. So, my congratulations to the people of Australia. As a remembrance, Mr. President, from the crew of Stars & Stripes, we'd like to have you display this wherever you choose and remember us here in our victory -- a half-model of our boat. It's the first one we've seen, and we'd like to have you have this as a part of our victory.

The President. Thank you very much.

Mr. Conner. So, if you'd help me hoist this Cup, I'm sure everyone would like to take your picture here. [Laughter] Thanks for having us. It really means a lot to us. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:39 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.