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Lexcen & Van Dyck inducted into Americas Cup Hall of Fame

by Dana Paxton on 8 Feb 2006

Legends of America’s Cup sailing – Ben Lexcen (born Robert Miller, New South Wales, Australia) and Stephen A. Van Dyck (Clearwater, Fla., USA), have been named as the 2006 inductees to the America’s Cup Hall of Fame. The inductees, who exemplify the best in both the design and tactical aspects of racing for the Cup, will be honored on the occasion of the Rolex America’s Cup Hall of Fame 14th Annual Induction Ceremony to be held Thursday, October 26, 2006. This black-tie dinner, sponsored by longtime supporter Rolex Watch U.S.A., is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Union League Club, New York, N.Y. Tickets are available to the public by contacting the America’s Cup Hall of Fame at 401-253-5000 or e-mailing t.souto@herreshoff.org.

America’s Cup Hall of Fame President Halsey C. Herreshoff, who will preside over the Induction Ceremony, said: "The selection of these two outstanding America’s Cup individuals fits perfectly with the mission of the Hall of Fame to elevate only the very best to the honored status for the America’s Cup. Ben Lexcen oversaw the design of a fantastic 12-Meter yacht Australia II that was the first to lift the Cup from America. Steve Van Dyck sailed in two America’s Cup matches and was particularly significant to the close, hard-fought match of 1970 aboard Intrepid. I take my hat off to these special individuals that we honor."

Ben Lexcen (1936-1988)

The man whose name is synonymous with the winged keel, Ben Lexcen was the most prolific Cup designer over the five-match period that ran from 1974 through 1987. Of the six 12-Meter boats that he designed, three sailed in Cup matches. Most important, one of those boats, Australia II, became the first challenger ever to win the America’s Cup.

Born Robert Miller in New South Wales, Australia, he left school at the age of 14 and discovered boats in the coastal town of Newcastle. He built his first boat at 16, started winning races, and became a sailmaker and part-time yacht designer specializing in the 18-foot skiff class, which he revolutionized. He designed light-displacement ocean racers, including Apollo for Alan Bond. When Bond challenged for the America’s Cup for 1974, he commissioned Miller to design his boat. An unusually long 12-Meter, Southern Cross showed bursts of speed, but lost the match. Miller soon after changed his name to Ben Lexcen in order to avoid confusion with the sailmaking firm of which he had been a partner.

From Southern Cross through Australia IV (1987), all his 12-Meters showed a flare of originality. "Good ideas are all around us," he often said. Lexcen constantly experimented with keels, rigs, and concepts from aircraft design. Lexcen and his associate Johan Valentijn tried out some of these ideas on Bond’s 1977 and 1980 challenger, Australia. In 1980 Lexcen borrowed an idea for a bendy mast from the British challenger and Australia won a light air race.

Bond became convinced that the only way to win the America’s Cup from the New York Yacht Club was to have a superior boat. In 1981 Lexcen headed the international design team working in the Netherlands and Australia that produced the design that changed America’s Cup and yachting history. The team of Lexcen and two Dutch research scientists, Peter van Oossanen and Joop Slooff, working in Dutch towing tank and aeronautical research facilities, came up with an unusually small hull over an upside-down keel sprouting winglets. Looking unlike any yacht that had ever been launched, Australia II beat Dennis Conner’s Liberty in seven races. Lexcen was later awarded a Member of the Order of Australia.

People who worked with Lexcen have described him as brilliantly intuitive. Bob Fisher, a British yachting journalist and member of the America's Cup Hall of Fame Selection Committee, has described his talent as "outrageous in its naiveté, fundamental in its approach, and gloriously effective in its delivery." His premature death from a heart attack left a vacuum in Australian yachting, and the entire America’s Cup.

Stephen A. Van Dyck (1943- )

Stephen Van Dyck epitomizes the skilled and successful Corinthian yachtsmen who crewed Cup boats during most of the 12-Meter era (1958-1987) as well as a new breed of tactician. Born in Rochester, N.Y., he grew up sailing in Southport, Conn. and as a youth learned extensively from involvement with America’s Cup Hall of Fame member Briggs Cunningham who sailed the 1958 defender, Columbia.

Van Dyck sailed on two Cup defenders: Constellation as a trimmer in 1964 when a college student and Intrepid in 1970 as tactician for skipper Bill Ficker. While Ficker concentrated on steering the small-ruddered boat and never looked at the competition, Van Dyck called the tactics and directed the sail trimmers. This was in part necessitated by Intrepid's deck-sweeping boom (grinders were below deck), which prevented the skipper from seeing to leeward when steering upwind.

The modified 1970 Intrepid was not as fast as she had been in 1967 and in the light-to-moderate conditions in which all but the first race was sailed, she was clearly slower than the Australian challenger, Gretel II. Intrepid won in 1970 because of the superior tactics employed by the cockpit team. Steve was not aboard for the second race in which the famous collision at the start resulted in the disqualification of Gretel II . He had an allergic reaction to a bee sting on the tow out to the start and was removed to the hospital by a helicopter. His place was taken by navigator Peter Wilson, while Toby Tobin was brought on board to navigate.

Van Dyck, who had been employed at Sparkman & Stephens as a "rookie draftsman" before college, contributed to Constellation's deck layout and is credited with inventing the sheet lock-off or clutch which significantly improved the ease and speed of headsail and spinnaker changes. At Steve’s suggestion a full-size, inclinable mock up of Constellation's cockpit and part of the deck was built to test layout ideas. He was also involved in the design of the 1974 Sparkman & Stephens defender Courageous.

In the late 1970s, Van Dyck, though running a shipping company, became deeply involved with Dennis Conner and his 1980 two-boat campaign that culminated in the S&S-designed Freedom’s successful defense. Freedom’s low freeboard was one of his design contributions. During two years of practice sailing on both coasts, Van Dyck planned to serve as tactician, but business simply would not allow time. He did continue to coach and assist with syndicate management.

After 22 years as a deck hand, tactician or advisor in seven campaigns, Van Dyck retired from the America’s Cup after 1983, but his involvement with the sea continued. He actively raced two 48-footers named Wonder to Bermuda and along the East Coast in the 1990s. Now retired from the Philadelphia-based shipping company he ran for many years, he heads INTERTANKO, an organization working to protect the marine environment.

He is once again competing in meter boats, the one-man 2.4-Meter miniature 12-Meter. Thirty-five years after beating Gretel II in Intrepid, he is still identified as a Cup winner. "When I am introduced giving speeches these days, I am still a little amazed at how people still refer to me as an America’s Cup tactician," he said.

About the America's Cup Hall of Fame

The America's Cup Hall of Fame was created to honor the challengers, defenders, and legendary personages of the world's most distinguished sporting competition. The present prototype Hall of Fame is located in an historic building on the grounds of the former Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol, Rhode Island, where yachts were constructed for eight consecutive America's Cup defenses between 1893 and 1934. The Herreshoff Marine Museum, situated on this historic site, operates the America's Cup Hall of Fame.

Commencing with the first induction ceremony in 1993, 64 legends of the Cup have been selected for membership in the Hall of Fame. Candidates eligible for consideration include skippers, afterguard, crew, designers, builders, organizers, syndicate leaders, managers, supporters, chroniclers, race managers, and other individuals of merit. Each nominee is judged on the basis of outstanding ability, international recognition, character, performance, and contributions to the sport. The 21 members of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee bring a wealth of knowledge to the selection process. This illustrious international group is made up of persons intimate with the America's Cup tradition of yacht racing and committed to the integrity of the Hall of Fame. The America’s Cup Hall of Fame is honored to conduct its yearly induction ceremonies in conjunction with Rolex Watch U.S.A.

The America's Cup Hall of Fame is dedicated to preserving and demonstrating the influence of America's Cup Competition, for the purpose of education and the inspiration of excellence in the world of yachting. For more information, visit www.herreshoff.org

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