With a cold, rainy weather outside and the daily work already finished, it was time to have the search-bar in Netflix activated again. Fearing the worst (like always, 2 hours or looking for a movie I don´t already know for half an hour of watching before one´s eyes give up) I was delighted to see that the streaming giant came up with a brand new documentary: “Untold – The Race of the Century”, a 2022 sailing doc. Let´s play!
I am not all-too familiar with regatta and races, as you may know. The America´s Cup is of course a term I know but nothing more, no details. So I wasn´t familiar with this long standing tradition, being one of the oldest sports trophies in the world, I didn´t knew anything about its rules nor did I know about the gripping story behind the 1983 edition of this most prestigious race. Even if I had known, that´s being said right at the start of my article: This documentary is a killer and a must see!
The Story of “The Race of the Century”
In 1983 one o the greatest sports stories began to unfold. With 132 years of never losing the America´s Cup to another country, the New York Yacht Club held a spotless record. As the documentary states, the event survived the Confederacy, the Great War, the Depression and the Second World. Challenging the New York Yacht Club, nation by nation failed to catch the most famous of all cups. The documentary builds up the story by explaining the rules.
In order to wind, all challengers will have to design and build a boat that adheres to certain rules in their own country. The boats are then brought to the USA where the challenging nations compete with each other in a series of races, later called the Louis Vuitton Cup. The one boat prevailing has the right to race against the “Defender”, the current holder of the Cup, which back then was undefeated Ne York Yacht Club. Rich people spending millions on racing boats, highly trained crews and a huge PR-machinery. The documentary loos as well behind the scenes: Where does the money come from? It is said, that a budget of at least 100 million Dollars was needed.
In 1983 it was Skipper John Bertrand of Australia and his devoted crew who challenged the America´s Cup. Whilst U.S. skipper legend and four time Cup winner Dennis Conner in LIBERTY was pumped ful of pride and confidence, the Aussies had a brand new boat with secret new keel designed by Ben Lexcen. A feature that still today is the center of epic controversy. It was mainly this new keel which enabled the dedicated crew of AUSTRALIA II to be able to really stand up against the might NYYC.
Technology, virtuoso, money and pride
The documentary is mainly told from the perspective of today´s John Bertrand. We see him sitting behind a desk in his dark office. A boat model of a classic regatta yacht behind him. Recollecting the events leading to his participation in the race deep back into his family tradition: Grandfather being a fisherman, his father a skilled sailor and himself sailing since a kid. Bertrand is thwarted by late Dennis Conner, who, at first, is portrayed as an arrogant counterpart. During the documentary his character will undergo a fundamental change.
Flashbacks in sepia-tainted news reports, film material and TV-broadcasts have us dive deep into the story. The tension builds ever so slightly. A few comic reliefs make for a hard laugh, such as the remark of one of the crew members, stating that the Americans had the help of the U.S. Navy and the MIT, “we´ve had the barefooted Benny.” Finally, the race is on, AUSTRALIA II winds the Luis Vuitton Cup with easy and a never before achieved scoreboard, now it´s bow on bow with LIBERTY.
What I loved about the documentary
Netflix managed to produce a documentary that has everything a good story needs: A hero, a villain, a great prize and a gripping story. Even Australia´s Prime Minister at that time, Bob Hawke, appears on screen, recalling those events with a great smile. It was one of his last interview before he passed away. It never fails to entertain, it is sparkling with facts and figures but without being instructive or boring.
This documentary truly is a great story and a must for every sailor. I now understand much, much better the legacy and value of the America´s Cup and the profound change the 1983 edition brought to this sports event. With ALINGHI winning for Switzerland, before that the Cup going to New Zealand and nowadays countries like China or Korea participating, it is hardly conceivable that up until this fateful race in 1983 this trophy had never been won by anybody else than the men of the New York Yacht Club. What an amazing tale – watch it on Netflix.
May overall assessment of “The Race of the Century” is 9 of 10 points
Pictures curtesy of © NETFLIX corporation
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