They're sunburned. They're 12,000 miles from home. They've learned to live without the Super Bowl or air conditioning on hot nights. They're learning to wave -- not to say hi, but to flick off the flies that stick to skin like sand to suntan oil.
The Americans have come to Perth, Western Australia. West Australian car tags show why. "Home of the America's Cup," they boast.
New home of the America's Cup. Temporary home, the Americans hope. They aim to recover what -- after 132 years -- the New York Yacht Club lost to Australian Alan Bond and his racing crew on a pleasant September 1983 afternoon off Newport, R.I.
That won't be a simple matter.
Which is why the America II, a New York Yacht Club-sponsored syndicate with a $12-million budget, has two new 12-meter boats and 50 people here at the other end of the world. Or nearly.
Australians tend to regard Perth in much the same way everyone else regards Australia -- as remote, hot, dry, a little brash, and an awfully long way from anywhere important.
Perth proudly refers to itself as the most isolated capital city in the world. Its nearest urban neighbor is 2,000 miles away, over a desert populated largely by kangaroos and rabbits. Western Australia is one-third the size of the United States with only just over a million people -- about 900,000 of whom live around Perth.
But Bond's winning the Cup on his fourth attempt has meant that at least some of the rest of the world has had to come to Perth and Fremantle, its port 12 miles down the river.
It's already impossible to book a hotel room here at any price for January and February next year, when the race will be sailed. Rents around usually sleepy Fremantle have spiraled as the old place undergoes a frenzy of bar renovation and other construction. Investors talk confidently of the cup development boom, and the government of attracting a million tourists from October through February. Bond, a real estate developer as well as a sailing fanatic, is building a multistory "observation tower" in the midst of a flat Perth suburb.
Arthur Wullschleger, a textile magnate from Florida and now campaign operations manager for America II, arrived in Perth in March 1984. By the time the crew arrived for the first summer, in late 1984, he had bought an entire apartment building to house them, as well as a dockside headquarters near Bond's Australia II headquarters.
"You have to put your money where your mouth is," Wullschleger says expansively. "The Aussies are my friends. Oh, people here have heard a lot of horror stories about the New York Yacht Club. But as soon as they saw that we were prepared to roll up our sleeves and work, that we weren't a bunch of stuffed shirts, that's all changed. Everyone is very friendly. It's like West Texas on the seashore."
For the first time, however, the New York Yacht Club can't even assume its boat will be in the finals, let alone win. The best-of-seven series between the Australian winner and the challenger doesn't start until Jan. 31. Before that -- in October -- will come the elimination trials among an expected 14 challengers, including French, British, Canadian, Italian and six American syndicates. The Australian syndicates will have similar elimination series.
The Courageous, an American challenge team sponsored by the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club, arrived in Perth last December for several months' sailing. The other four American syndicates -- Heart of America from Chicago, the St. Francis Golden Gate Challenge from San Francisco, the Eagle from Newport Beach, Calif., and the Sail America from San Diego -- will wait while they work on a new generation of high-tech 12-meter boats before descending on Perth later this year. Dennis Conner, who skippered the second place Liberty in 1983, has been racing his Sail America boats off Hawaii and talking about winning back what he lost.
But those already in Perth display the smugness of survivors as they become used to the quirks of the onshore and offshore life of Western Australia.
Courageous IV, a veteran 12-meter boat and winner of two America's Cups in the 1970s, has been redesigned and now sits another half mile down the dusty harbor road from the New York Yacht Club headquarters.
The atmosphere around the sheds is a little more casual than at the America II. Chuck Wilson, operations manager with Courageous, is attempting to coax a little more air out of a struggling air conditioner. It is summer in Perth, and it has been well over 100 degrees for a week. Joyce Greene, wife of syndicate chairman Leonard Greene, is scouting around Perth for long-sleeved shirts to help protect the crew against a searing sun undiluted by haze or smog. The crew has been waiting a for a new mast to arrive from the States; the first one splintered in the heavy winds that can be the only antidote to the heat here.
"We expected it to be windy," says Chuck Wilson. "But we didn't think it would be this hot. And the flies are atrocious.
"But we're having a good time. The people are great. It's just a bit odd knowing that there's nothing out there as soon as you move away from the coast -- and the pace of life is definitely slower."
The Courageous syndicate insists it wants to run a different style campaign than America II's.
"We don't believe in guards and watchdogs and special passes and closed gates," Chuck Wilson says.
"It's like they've rented a bit of New York State up there. They don't exactly make you feel you should drop in for coffee. Our door is open, our boat is exposed to the public, we want to have a very open relationship."
Wilson and his team don't always have a choice. In contrast to the New York Yacht Club apartment building on a quiet Fremantle street, the Courageous crew stays at the local university residence hall. The accommodations will become a little crowded when the students return from their vacations this month.
Still, the crew won't have to evacuate in a hurry at 5 a.m. because of a bush fire next door, as the Greenes did. The chairman and his wife have a 19th-floor apartment five minutes from the center of Perth, but it overlooks a river and park, where a fire raged in the middle of a January night.
Joyce Greene also is having to give cooking lessons. The America II brought its own chef to Perth; the Courageous syndicate, which has about 35 people here, is relying on a local caterer.
"They're improving but they just don't seem to understand how to make a good salad or an American sandwich," she says. "But we do try to take everybody out once a week or so for a Chinese meal or a pizza."
Not that any of the crew has much time for anything other than sailing and sleeping. Days in both camps start about 6 a.m. with a vigorous workout and usually don't end until after 8 p.m., with hard hours of sailing six days a week.
Nor do most of them have the money to paint the town even pale pink. Despite the millions of dollars that are spent on a challenge -- and the years of preparation it now takes -- crew members, usually in their early twenties, sail for the fun and the honor rather than the money. A motley assortment of students, sail makers, architects, an occasional lawyer or doctor, they get only a few dollars a day pocket money.
But a couple of the Fremantle bars are gradually developing a reputation as Saturday night team hangouts. And the America II syndicate did organize one trip to the ballet. More popular is a newly renamed bar, "The Auld Mug" -- a traditional nickname for the cup. The farsighted bar owner has put sailing photographs on the wall and organized arm-wrestling competitions between syndicates. More importantly, he offers all teams' members discounts on drinks.
"The bars are more like English pubs," says Wilson. "People seem to stand around in circles and drink -- a lot."
The Americans are even getting a taste for the stronger, less sweet Australian beer -- even though the Perth brewery is owned by Bond, or "Bondy" as he is universally known. The America II syndicate made an enormous and sw,-2 sk,2 ld,10 expensive effort to import Budweiser only to find that its team now prefers the Australian brews.
One major obstacle has been unexpected. Western Australian women are proving remarkably resistant to the charms of visiting crews. To the Americans' bewilderment, the women often prefer to dance with one another while declining their gallant offers.
"The girls are shy," says Wullschleger. Other less tactful syndicate members suggest that Australian women are more used to coping with -- or being ignored by -- Australian men and are still suspicious of polite American males.
It's certainly not that anyone in Perth is unaware of the significance of the America's Cup or why the Americans have arrived.
Unlike in the United States, winning the cup has been like a holy grail -- a national obsession -- in Australia since the 1960s. Every few years, the race at Newport would dominate headlines and conversation in Australia. Every few years, there would be disappointment and muttering about the rules.
Because of the time difference between the United States and Australia, the races were always run in the middle of the night, Australian time -- but always with huge audiences. On Sept. 26, 1983, the nation was ecstatic. There was no morning rush hour because people stayed home to celebrate.
After his all-night vigil, Prime Minister Bob Hawke attended a champagne breakfast at a riotous Royal Perth Yacht Club.
"Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum," he said through the spray of champagne. When the cup and crew finally did return to Perth, nearly 400,000 people -- almost half the population -- came to cheer the parade.
Wullschleger always reminds people that the America II challenge also has 33 affiliated clubs besides the New York Yacht Club. The distinction never sinks in. Aware of the club's reputation for being an imperious winner and bad loser, he treads with some delicacy on sensitive Australian feelings.
Still . . . "Of course I expect to win the cup back," he says. "I'd be a jerk to spend three years of my life doing this if I didn't. Right now we're proceeding right on schedule. We've raised $9 million of the $12 million already. We don't expect any problems with the rest."
The reluctance of syndicate representatives and skipper John Kolius to attend daily press conferences after a recent 12-meter world championship has created another storm of resentment.
The Australian, a national newspaper, ran the headline: "Who the Hell Do America II Guys Think They Are?"