As Team New Zealand swept to her fifth straight victory in America's Cup 2000, and became the first non-US team to successfully defend the 149-year-old trophy, there was one overriding question in the minds of would-be challengers: how long will the sailors in this island of 3.5 million people be able to maintain their intensity and continue to raise the level of the game?
Black Magic and Luna Rossa go through their pre-start ballet in the final race.
The New Zealanders declared a sailing dynasty by putting 26-year-old Dean Barker at the helm of NZL 60 for today's race, which saw the strongest winds of the series. Barker replaced Russell Coutts, who was 38 yesterday. Coutts did not sail on the boat, but watched from the team tender. He and his confreres were determined to show that New Zealand's resounding win had been a team effort, and that not all of the team was on the boat all the time. Barker was also being rewarded for his devotion to the task of bringing Coutts to the peak of his racing career. As tune-up helmsman, he constantly gave his mentor more trouble during starting practice than Italian skipper Francesco De Angelis had been able to do during the Cup series.
The fanatically devoted New Zealand squad, 14 of whom also sailed in the 1995 series, has not lost an America's Cup race through the 10 matches of the 1995 and 2000 contests; and they have led at every mark of all 10 races.
With hugs, high fives and back slaps, the usually stoic and very businesslike Kiwi team even managed to show a little emotionenough at least to indicate that they are humanas they swept across the finish line at just under 15 knots in 23 knots of wind. There was a thunderous outburst of cheers and horns from the estimated 1,800 spectator boats and their 25,000 occupants; the largely hometown congregation had nearly as enthusiastic a greeting for the Italian challengers who crossed the line 48 second later.
After the race, Sir Peter Blake, who has conducted both the 1995 and this year's New Zealand campaigns, announced that he had received a challenge for 2002-3 from Italy's Yacht Club Punta Alta, the club that Luna Rossa has represented in this event. If accepted, this means that the Italians will be charged with organizing the challenger round for the Louis Vuitton series, to choose the boat that will come up against the New Zealand defenders.
Today's match was the first in which NZL 60's winning margin was not greater than one minute, but the boats were moving so fast on the final leg, with the wind dead aft and well above 20 knots, that Luna Rossa closed the time, while the distance between the boats remained about the same as at the final windward mark.
As the wind increased throughout the race and the black boat gradually pulled away, one had to wonder if the Kiwis were at full throttle, or were they holding back just a bit to disguise the true potential of the long, powerful black boat. To Team New Zealand, this is an ongoing campaignthey are looking ahead to 2003and today's victory would again set into high gear the continuing process of research and innovation. How far can the men of this tiny island nation stretch the envelope, or do they even recognize that there is an envelope?
Understudy helmsman Dean Barker of Team New Zealand upends the auld mug to the cheers of thousands of spectators.
Dean Barker, former world youth champion and one of the best Laser sailors in the world, admitted at the post-race press conference that he had been very nervous before the start. He said, " It is very hard to find words to express the feeling... going out with the score 4-0 and having to race knowing that if you lose you look silly .... but from my point of view it could not have been better. I am just beyond words."
Barker was able to finish off in style the job that Coutts had started. He tied Luna Rossa up in knots before the start and crossed the line dead ahead of the challenger with a lead of 12 seconds. With the Italians having the advantage of entering the starting area on starboard tack, Barker was able to stall the action by initiating two head-to-wind "dial ups" and then managed to get to windward of Luna Rossa with time running out. The Italians had no choice but to follow meekly across the line.
With the wind at 15 knotsthe most seen at the start in the series Luna Rossa gave a good account of herself up the first leg. Her tactician Torben Grael, managed to split tacks with the defender so the Italian boat was able to keep her wind clear much of the time. For long stretches she appeared to be a match for NZL 60, but Barker and his tactician Brad Butterworth gradually worked the action to the starboard tack layline and then used the superior straight-line speed of the black boat to camp on Luna Rossa's bow for a long tack to the mark.
New Zealand rounded with a lead of 24 seconds, and with the wind having gone right since the start, the downwind leg heavily favored the port tack; so both boats did bear-away spinnaker sets, using their symmetrical chutes, and hightailed it down the leg for several minutes before either jibed. For a while Luna Rossa was looking good, sailing lower and about the same speed. Then she jibed away, but failed to lure the Kiwis into a jibing contest as the black boat continued charging down the leg on port. The Italians jibed back again, but the relative positions seemed unchanged. Then both jibed onto starboard for the turn and rounded with NZL 60 leading by 22 seconds.
Team Prada trailing Black Magic, a scene America's Cup viewers saw all too often in the 30th America's Cup match.
For several minutes half way up the second weather leg, the boats held a long port tack with Luna Rossa to windward and behind. The Italians were pointing high and moving well, aided by a subtle windshift to the left. It appeared the challengers were at least holding their ground. Barker had NZL 60 moving very fast as he headed for what he and Butterworth believed would be a solid shift back to the right. As might have been predicted, they sailed into a big one , tacked and were lifted up onto the starboard tack layline. Luna Rossa tacked to leeward and abeam. By the time NZL 60 reached the mark the right-hand shift had placed them high of the lay line and they cracked off for the last 300 yards. At the turn, the Kiwis had stretched out to 47 seconds, for a gain of 25 on the leg.
With the wind now above 20 knots, the long powerful hull of the Kiwi boat, which bears the unmistakable imprint of designer Laurie Davidson, stretched her legs and pulled away. At one point the voice of Italian tactician Torben Grael, was picked up by the on-board sound system remarking, "look at them fly!"
The New Zealanders were ahead by just over a minute heading onto the final weather leg. They covered tightly up the leg, choosing not to take any chances chasing windshifts. Having nothing to lose, the Italians tried to keep to the left in the hope that the wind had stopped its right-hand turn and would come back to its earlier direction. But there was no appreciable wind variation on the leg, and at the final weather mark the New Zealand lead was 1:13.
Leaving nothing to chance, Team New Zealand did what must have been the most conservative mark rounding in the five-year history of their America's Cup campaign. Noted for shaving marks very closely, this time the Kiwis were more than a length wide as they bore off onto the final leg; and the spinnaker hoist was held until the boat was well through her turn and headed straight downwind, lessening any chance of the chute blowing out if hoisted too soon.
With the wind gusting to 25 knots the final leg was fast and both boats were surging close to 15 knots. They made two jibes each and headed down the corridor between official and spectator boats with bow waves foaming and wakes flat. The microphones on NZL 60 picked up the voice of veteran sail trimmer Simon Daubney saying to helmsman Dean Barker, "Take it home Deano, take it home."
And as NZL sailed into the history books, the volume was turned up on radios and TV sets throughout the fleet and around the world as New Zealand's matchless broadcaster Peter Montgomery declared, "America's Cup is still New Zealand's Cup."