FREMANTLE, Australia — It was Yankees 4, A's 0. A whitecap whitewash. A real ocean breeze. A burial at sea.
There were four America's Cup 12-meter yacht races packed into five sun-kissed days, and the Americans won every one of them, and the Australians never even came close, and that's what you call blitzing Matilda.
No matter how one-sided the sail of the century turned out to be, though, there were scenes here of unforgettable beauty and undeniably moving emotion, so that by the time Dennis Conner and his crew navigated Stars & Stripes through the gunwale-to-gunwale traffic in the Fremantle harbor, one almost expected Conner to accept the offer of an Aussie lad seated cross-legged on the rocks, holding a placard in his lap.
"Ay, Dennis--Double or Nothing?" it read.
You're on, son. Forget these plans to transfer the trophy to the San Diego Yacht Club and to jet the Stars & Stripes crew to the White House, where President Reagan is eager to model the \o7 akubra \f7 hat he won in a wager with the Australian prime minister. Forget about throwing another kookaburra on the barbie. Let's stick around. Let's play some more yachtsie.
Even those back home who don't know a jib from a jab, and don't care to, and who are absolutely thrilled that ESPN can now go back to televising Australian rules football and professional kick-boxing instead of this stuff, even those hard sells might have been swayed had they made the 12,000-mile excursion to Western Australia and seen the scene when the America's Cup sailors docked for the final time.
It isn't fair to say so, but you had to be there. You had to be a part of it, either from the water, aboard any of the 57 varieties of vessels that swirled and veered into one another like carnival bumper cars, or from the rooftops and rocks, as a figure in the tableau of flesh that awaited Stars & Stripes and Kookaburra III upon their return. No New Orleans Mardi Gras was more hectic, yet no Monet mural was more serene.
Life will likely go on a long time before these images fade. A hero's welcome brought tears to the eyes of Iain Murray, Captain Kook, the whimsical 28-year-old who had promised the prime minister that very morning that he and the Kookaburra crew would, have no fear, win at least one race.
Having failed, Murray expected the embrace he received from his wife, Alex, and the let's-play look he got from his dog, Cliff. He did not anticipate the congratulatory back-thumping that came from everyone on the dock who could lay a hand on him.
This was not polite applause for a baseball pitcher trudging off the diamond toward an early shower. This was a mobbing, an avalanche of affection like a celebrity rock 'n' roller might get. Only this one was going to a gentleman who had just been beaten, and beaten soundly, in back-to-back-to-back-to-back boat races.
Then, the winner entered the harbor. Proudly, like a debutante at a ball. Australians outnumbered American tourists by the thousands, but they cheered for Conner, hollered compliments to him, held up signs, saluted, sang to him, even organized "hip, hip, hoorays." They did everything but the wave.
No seaman had been so welcome since Capt. Charles Howe Fremantle sailed his 28-gun frigate HMS Challenger to the Western shores of New Holland in 1829 and founded the settlement that would become Fremantle, Australia.
In Freo, as natives know it now, they really know how to throw a party. So they lost the America's Cup--was that any reason not to rejoice with the winning Americans? Think of all that perfectly good beer that would go to waste. It was a good excuse to hoist some brew. Of course, in Australia, the sunrise is a good excuse to hoist some brew.
The spectator boats escorted Stars & Stripes into the harbor, and the waves were alive with the sound of horns and popping corks. Conner and his crewmen acknowledged the applause.
Daredevils dived from refreshment-shed rooftops into the drink. A man on the top deck of the tour boat Sunbird seized a microphone and led a group chorale of "God Bless America." On the dock, in operatic Viking regalia, a symbolic fat lady sang.
Kevin Parry, head of the Kookaburra syndicate, could not take his eyes from the commotion, and felt inside him a swell of pride at the conclusion of the races. "We didn't win them on the water," he said later. "But we won them on the land."
This was not a scene to miss. You could go to Super Bowls the rest of your life, and witness competition every bit as uneven, and never see a sight as stirring as the climax of America's Cup.
One could but pity the passengers of the Royal Viking Sky luxury liner, some of whom had paid $30,000 or more for a round-the-world cruise, only to find themselves still en route from Melbourne to Fremantle as the Cup races came to an end. Their captain never counted on the finals lasting only five days.