In 1936, Robert “Bob” Miller was born in the Australian outback — “in bone-dry Boggabri, a long day’s voyage from the sea.”
So it’s intriguing that, in his teens, Miller developed an interest in sailboat design. He went on to become a professional marine architect.
In the early 1960s, Bob Miller and his friend Craig Whitworth founded a boat-building and sail-making company called Miller & Whitworth in Sydney.
Miller continued doing his own design work on the side, though. Most notably, he began collaborating with Australian millionaire Alan Bond on a series of racing yachts in the late 1960s.
The most famous of these yachts was the Australia II, which, in 1983, became the first non-American yacht to win the America’s Cup. This was the cup that Thomas Lipton had failed to win 5 times in a row, from 1899 to 1930, and that Bond and Miller themselves had also failed to win 3 times previously, from 1974 to 1980.
Except…by 1983, Bob Miller wasn’t “Bob Miller” anymore. He was Ben Lexcen.
Why the name change?
Because, in the mid-1970s, Miller and Whitworth had had a falling-out:
Miller left the firm, but found he could not take his name with him. “I had had a great design business, a fantastic business, and I lost all that,” says Lexcen. “They were advertising everywhere, and all my mail was going to them. I tried to get the post office to change it. Noooo. I just had to do something, so I changed my name. Lexcen was one of my wife’s family names from way back. I had a friend who had a computer check it against the mailing lists of the Reader’s Digest and American Express to see if there was anybody with that name, and there wasn’t, at least not in Australia.” And Ben? “I wanted the same number of letters.”
But that’s not the only version of the name-change story.
In another variation, when the time came Lexcen borrowed a word from the project he was working on at the moment — Lexan hatch covers — and added it to the name of his recently deceased dog, Benjie.
Specifics aside, Ben Lexcen (formerly Bob Miller) and the other members of the Australia II team became national heroes following their historical victory. In fact, a baby born in Melbourne around the time of the win was named Charles Australia II John Bertrand Ben Lexcen.
- Ben Lexcen – Wikipedia
- History | Whitworths Marine & Leisure
- Phillips, Angus. “Lexcen He Lit Up Sailing World.” Washington Post 4 May 1988.
- Pileggi, Sarah. “A Bloke With Designs On The Cup.” Sports Illustrated 29 Aug. 1983.
- “Shoreline.” Cruising World Jul. 1988: 12, 14, 16, 152.