The underbodies of the two boats that will compete for the America's Cup in a best-five-of-nine series beginning on Saturday were revealed to the public on February 14th. As they had been unveiled on January 21 - before the start of the Louis Vuitton series - there were no great surprises.
New Zealand undergoes some final practice off Auckland this week.
However, some experienced observers, including Italian team designer Doug Peterson, had predicted that the New Zealanders would not have the wings on their keel bulb placed in the center of the bulb, under the trailing edge of the vertical keel fin. This is where the wings were at the time of the January unveiling. All the other America's Cup Class yachts, including the two LUNA ROSSAs, have wings at the aft end of the bulb. But when the skirts were dropped this time, there were the Kiwi wings in exactly the same place as before.
Peterson and others had felt the wings were there during the first unveiling as a bit of play acting to confuse the Italian camp; but in a recent conversation with this Sailnet correspondent and again during the unveiling ceremony, New Zealand designer Laurie Davidson said his team had tried wings of various configurations in several different locations along the bulb, and had decided that the central position gave the best results. He said that, in the end, the decision came from skipper Russell Coutts and his crew.
The wings are intended to reduce the spiralling of water off the aft end of the bulb and lower part of the keel. This vortex inhibits speed and strategically placed wings can reduce the tendency for the water to start the corkscrew motion.
The bulb on NZL 60 is longer and slimmer than the Italian boat's bulb, giving it a slightly lower center of gravity, but also adding wetted surface and perhaps making the boat a bit slower to turn. As in the 1995 Cup final the Kiwi bulb is decorated with red and yellow flames, while the Italians have gone for a drawing of a piranha with its mouth wide open, ready to gobble up the opposition.
Team New Zealand's NZL 60 with its novel X-rig will see action when the Cup matches begin this weekend.
Winning the America's Cup means more to New Zealand than it would have meant to any of the challengers that have been eliminated, or to the Italians, who have battled long and hard and now face the onerous task of wresting the old trophy away from the home team.
Victory for the Italians would justify the tremendous effort expended by their superb design and sailing teams and the enormous expense undertaken by the Prada fashion house, which has sponsored the four-year effort. But to New Zealand, where sailboat racing is tantamount to a religion, possessing the America's Cup has for the past five years been a stimulus to the small and wavering economy, and a point of national pride in an island nation that has more sailboats per capita than any other. Losing it would be the equivalent of a near national disaster.
When the Kiwi team swept to a five-zero win over the American defenders in 1995 and brought the Cup to Auckland, they knew they possessed two America's Cup boats that were far in advance of any other IACC designs. NZL 32, which was used in the America's Cup and in the challenger semifinals and finals, and NZL 38, which had brought the team through the earlier rounds, stunned the sailing world by cruising through the rigorous season of match racing with only one loss. No matter which of the Black Magic boats was used, it was distinctly superior to the opposition.
It was with this head start over most other contenders that they set about designing the two boats that have been constantly refined and meticulously tuned over the past several months and aboard which the chosen band of New Zealand sailors, most of them champions many times over, and many of them veterans of the 1995 campaign, have honed their skills. Today the defenders announced that they have chosen NZL 60 over NZL 57, although it was a difficult choice as they are similar and both have proven superior to the 1995 models.
It is significant that the design team that came up with Italy's two LUNA ROSSAs included San Diego's Doug Peterson, who had been co-designer with Laurie Davidson of the 1995 New Zealand boats. ITA 45, the LUNA ROSSA that will be used in the Cup match, looks a great deal like NZL 32, but is a little longer and has less sail area. Because both the Kiwis and Italians have used NZL 32 as the benchmark, the boats that meet Saturday for Race One of the Cup match will be similar in their basic parameters. Having less sail on longer hulls compared to the 1995 benchmark should better suit the stronger winds of the Hauraki Gulf.
The New Zealand design team, with Tom Schnackenberg as its coordinator and Laurie Davidson as its anchor man, may have gone a little further than the Italians in honing their boats for heavy weather-- the waterfront betting gives the home team the edge in winds above about 12 knots. Weather wisdom dictates that winds may be increasing over the next couple of weeks as New Zealand heads into late summer.
For some weeks it has been known that the defenders will race with an unusual mast, one which has only three spreaders instead of the usual four, with additional stiffness derived from "diamond" stays that crisscross the spar. Recently Team New Zealand announced that they will have a masthead reaching sail in their arsenal, similar to the ones used in the Whitbread Round the World Race last year. This could be used for close reaching in the event of a major windshift, or if the boats find themselves above the lay line and have to crack off for the weather mark. To help the rig support this sail, the mast has a set of long jumper struts above the top spreader.
As in April 1995, Russell Coutts will be the New Zealand skipper again and he has put together two complete teams of 16 men who have been racing NZL 57 and 60 against each other day after day for months. The Olympic Gold Medal winner and many-time world match-racing champion will be backed up by tactician and long time friend and sailing partner Brad Butterworth. Their knowledge of the Hauraki Gulf might be seen to give them the edge, but the Italians have just come through four months of intensive racing in these same waters and have proven themselves masters at predicting the wind patterns that have so often been described as unpredictable.
Meanwhile the Italian challengers have formally requested that the International Arbitration Panel step in to decide the controversy over the sailing rules. As reported earlier the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron committee in charge of the event wants penalty turns to be executed immediately after the foul, and wants each boat to have an official observer on board to work with the on-water referees to judge the positions and actions of the boats during tight situations.
The Italians have objected to both of these rules, neither of which was used during the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series. They point out that having to do a penalty turn before or immediately after the start would effectively end the race right there, as an early lead in a match race nearly always results in victory. If a boat had to do a turn while on a downwind leg, the spinnaker would have to be dropped and again the separation in the boats would turn the race into a procession. Not only would this rule have too great an influence over results, the Italians argue, but it would also greatly detract from spectator interest. When a penalized boat is allowed to do its turn at any time during the race it must fight hard and perhaps take tactical risks it would not otherwise take in order to gain the approximately 40 seconds lead required to make the turn. This can result in more drama rather than less. A penalized boat that does not have to do its turn immediately may also be able to force the other boat into a foul, which would cancel out the first offense and put the boats back on even terms.
The LUNA ROSSA team sees the on-board observers as a possible disadvantage for them as there could be a language problem between the Italian crew and a judge who does not speak Italian. As decisions often have to be made very quickly in the heat of a match race, they feel there could be costly misunderstandings.
The International Arbitration Panel has two members from the Royal New Zealand yacht Squadron, two from the New York Yacht Club, which is still officially the Challenger of Record, and one independent member, who is from Brazil.