America's Cup update

From Auckland madforsailing looks at how the America's Cup poker game is shaping up

Thursday June 20th 2002, Author: Aucklandspy, Location: Australasia


Auckland is less the City of Sails, than the Windy City at present as New Zealand endures the depths of winter. For the America's Cup teams on Syndicate Alley, there have only been three or four proper sailing days over the last couple of weeks as the Hauraki Gulf is dashed by gales and 15-20 knot winds in the lulls and torrential downpours.

Maybe it was luck, maybe it was design, but both Alinghi and Team New Zealand seem to have predicted the inclement weather and around two weeks ago both shut up shop and went 'on holiday'. Europe seems to be the destination of choice with both teams taking part in a number of events in those waters over the summer months.

The first result of this was seen recently at the showdown between Alinghi's Russell Coutts and Team New Zealand's Dean Barker in the finals of the Omega Seamaster Trophy match racing event in Italy. Contrary to expectations Dean beat Russell, the pupil despatching the master.

But is this indicative of things to come? The popular view according to the present poll on madfor sailing would suggest not, but a rematch is soon to take place at the Swedish Match Grand Prix in Marstrand, Sweden, the final of the match racing tour on 4-7 July.

GBR Challenge are slightly out of sync with the other campaigns. The full squad is now in town and work is continuing on the new boat Wight Lightning which arrived last week. Peter Harrison's squad have been testing cathedral rigs and it is rumoured that back in Cowes they have increased the pace of the build of their second boat GBR78 - originally due for launch next spring - as they are considering getting it out to Auckland.

Sweden's Victory Challenge were training and testing very actively up until three weeks ago, but the sailing team have now returned to Europe while maintainence work continues at their base. Moving further inland, the former illbruck Challenge base is currently being prepared for its new occupants, Le Defi Areva. However their sailing team too is back in Europe training out of Lorient.

Even less ready is the Stars & Stripes base. The space appears to have been leased to a boatyard, although the tenure of the present occupants is coming to an end within four to six weeks when Conner's base will be erected. In the meantime Stars & Stripes continue their training in Long Beach, California.

Oracle packed up seven weeks ago, although their met experts are still in town. Most interesting is that they currently have two boats outside their compound both with full covers and skirts on. One is USA-71, the first of Oracle's two new boats (the second is also due for launch this month). Both boats are sporting three spreader 'cathedral' rigs.

To recap a little, the cathedral (or Millenium) rig was one of the biggest surprises of the last America's Cup. It was first seen on Team New Zealand's defender and had successfully been kept under wraps by the Kiwis. Many believe it was this technological leap that gave their NZL-60 such pace over other ACC boats.

By having diagonals that pass directly through the mast it allows smaller diameter rigging and three, not four, sets of full length spreaders to be used thereby saving weight aloft and improving aerodynamic drag. However the rig has its downsides - the loadings are very different to a conventional four spreader arrangement and it makes the spar much harder to engineer and tougher to set up and tune. As if to demonstate a number of campaigns, including OneWorld and Team New Zealand have seen these rigs come crashing down round their ears in recent months.

Since its introduction on NLZ- 60 the cathedral rig has been under major development by all the challengers and it will be fascinating to see what variations the design teams from each of the syndicates have come up with.

It is all quiet at the Prada base, although they still have a weather team in town who go out whenever conditions allow. Meanwhile the sailing team is back in Punta Ala, Italy training and carrying out development work with their newly launched ITA-74.

So how is the form shaping up? There is some clear evidence by simply looking at the compounds and how well they are organised. This gives an impression of who is on top of their game and who is not. The top contenders are OneWorld - provided they don't get disqualified, Oracle, Prada and Alinghi. These campaigns are in a different league to everyone else in terms of time they've spent sailing, their design teams, amount of time they have had fully set-up bases. They have done the most and in the poker game that is America's Cup there is no hiding the fact that preparation is everything.

Aside from the 'big four' word on the street here is that Stars & Stripes is a campaign to watch. Last time round they were pretty good despite just having one boat, being late and suffering some controversy with their rudder that dropped them a point. This time with the New York Yacht Club muscle behind them they have a lot more money and have had a lot more time. They launched their first new boat USA-66 in January and at the end of May dipped their second boat, USA-77. The team also have great consistency with pretty much the same sailing and design teams as their last campaign.

At present the case against OneWorld has gone quiet as everyone waits for the results of the hearing. There was some controversy here a few weeks ago now over the individual members of the Arbitration Panel not wanting to hear the case until they had full indemnity in place against them personally first. For the Arbitration Panel it will be a tough call - it is a case of let them or off or disqualify them as there is no provision to hit OneWorld with a financial penalty. If they do choose to disqualify them, the individual members of the Arbitration Panel do not want to find themselves liable in a massive suit.

Despite OneWorld 'coming clean' and doing the right thing, having this case hanging over them can only be bad for team morale. Being the non-nationalistic, eco-warrior campaign they are the last people to want to end up in court: The whole murkiness of the case is utterly against the public persona they've been trying to portray. This is the team who recently worked with a team of more than 100 young people in Seattle to clean up the beach at the city's Golden Gardens park. They have bankrolled an environmntal TV series with the squeaky clean Grease star Olivia Newton-John. They want to win the America's Cup "in the name of the health of the oceans". Instead they have the lawyers in and an accusation of being 'cheats' hanging over them.

Meanwhile the latest rumours from the defenders camp is that they are very worried about the level of the opposition this time round. Team New Zealand are said to be uncertain whether they they still have the technical jump on the other syndicates that they had in 2000. Skipper Dean Barker is under the microscope, although his recent win against Coutts must have been a feather in his cap. Latest rumours are that Chris Dickson may be invited back into the fold.

Even in the depths of winter there is never a dull moment in Auckland.

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