One of the most dramatic events in modern sailing occurred in 1983. Australia II, with its famous winged keel, defeated US defender Liberty and took the America’s Cup abroad for the first time in its 200 year history. It was a stunning victory for the Aussies that resonated far beyond the sailing world. As both boats carried North sails, the company also rode the wave. Both Liberty and Australia II used revolutionary warp-oriented sail cloth for the first time. Aboard Australia II, a crew led by skipper John Bertrand hoisted sails of different material split front-to-back: polyester panels worked out of the luff and the layout switched to woven aramid, or kevlar, at the leech. The sails used a tri-radial layout, designed and developed by Tom Schnackenberg of North Sails in New Zealand, and were thought to be considerably lighter and less stretchy.
Aboard Liberty were skipper Dennis Conner and tactician Tom Whidden. In 1987 Conner and Whidden would have their revenge. With the whole world watching, the pair guided American challenger Stars & Stripes to victory over Aussie defender Kookaburra III in a tense, windy series held in Perth. The Cup returned to US shores, Dennis Conner became a household name and Tom Whidden was hired as President of North Sails. Today, the America’s Cup remains a key platform for North sail development. Whether racing 12Metres, IACC sloops or wing-masted foiling catamarans, AC teams have helped North pioneer breakthroughs in sail technology such as 3DL aramid/carbon laminates, asymmetric spinnakers, 3Di composite sails, and the design horsepower behind a wing and soft sail working together.