The finalists for the Louis Vuitton Cup have chosen the weapons with which they will fight their duel, beginning Tuesday, to see which will meet New Zealand in the America's Cup match in late February. As expected, AMERICA ONE, representing the St. Francis Yacht Club of San Francisco, will be using USA 61, the boat that dominated the challenger semifinals. The Italians have chosen ITA 45, their first LUNA ROSSA. It is the boat that had 19 wins to one loss in rounds One and Two in October and November.
On Friday Team New Zealand lifted the skirts of their two black contenders for the defense of the Cup to reveal the underbodies to press and public for the first time. The 40,000 pound lead bulbs at the bottoms of the keels were different, with the bulb on NZL 60 being longer and slimmer than the one on NZL 57. But perhaps the biggest difference from the boats New Zealand used in 1995 to bring the Cup home, was the placement of the wings on the bulbs. These were much further forward - almost in the center of the bulbs.
There is nothing to guarantee that the Kiwi boat that races in the America's Cup will look like it does today. When the home team decides which of the boats will be the defender there will be another similar unveiling on February 14.
Later in the day, after they had come in from more practice sailing, LUNA ROSSA and AMERICA ONE also unveiled their hulls and underbodies. These boats are very similar to each other above the water, and there were no significant differences below either. Both had moderately short bulbs, shorter than the Kiwi ballast packages, and, unlike the N.Z. boats, both had the wings at the extreme aft end of the bulb.
The AMERICA ONE and LUNA ROSSA camps will continue through the weekend to hone their skills out on the water in preparation for Tuesday's face off. And they will not be the only ones practicing in the Hauraki Gulf, as the two New Zealand boats, NZL 57 and 60, will be pursuing their daily race schedule.
Apart from one four-hour fling with Japan's IDATEN a month ago, the New Zealanders have had only themselves to play with. The question is whether they have been able to raise their game to a level high enough to compete with a challenger that will have had nearly four months of racing against several boats while battling its way to the America's Cup.
Although the challenger will arrive at the starting line having raced against several opponents, many of those races have been very one-sided and of little use as a tune-up for the faster boat. The New Zealanders have not had the variety of opposition, but every time out the evenly matched black boats have given each other a close race.
Team New Zealand, which represents the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, could have allowed other syndicates to try out for the defense of the Cup, which was won by NZL 32 in five straight races in 1995. Led by Sir Peter Blake, the committee charged with defending the Cup decided that New Zealand was too small a country, with its 3.5 million population, to support more than one defense effort.
The 1995 series was sailed in the light winds and awkward swells of the Pacific Ocean off San Diego, so the defenders began the Defense 2000 campaign by altering one of the 1995 boats to suit the generally stronge rwinds and shorter, steeper seas of New Zealand's Hauraki Gulf, a nearly land-locked bay a few miles Northeast of Auckland. At the same time a design team led by Tom Schnackenberg and including Laurie Davidson, who had been co-designer for the1995 program, began work on two new contenders.
Hundreds of hours with computer performance assessment programs led to the testing of several 30-foot models at the University of Southampton test tank on England's south coast. Under the "country of origin" rule, if a challenger or defender does not have a test tank in its own country large enough to accommodate a one-third scale model, it may use a facility in another country. The New Zealanders used the Southampton tank in their remarkably successful 1995 program as well.
Design changes for this year's conditions included basic strengthening of the entire structure - hull, rig and underwater appendages - to with stand the punishment of stronger winds and the wrenching torque of very steepseas. It may have been a lack of understanding of this combination of wind and waves that was responsible for the near sinking of YOUNG AMERICA in November. Designing boats strong enough to survive, while being nimble enough to win, was the quandary facing both challengers and defenders, but the Kiwis should have had a better understanding of the problems.
So far their two new boats have had no major problems with the unpredictable hometown weather. Indulging in a bit of one-upsmanship, the Kiwis have taken their boats out in conditions that have kept the challengers in harbor. However, it remains to be seen if their tough hulls and rigs will also be fast enough to beat either AMERICA ONE or LUNAROSSA, which have reached their present form through months of exhaustive racing in winds ranging from very light up to 20 knots plus. By agreement among the challengers, the Louis Vuitton races were not started in winds which held for more than five minutes above 18 knots before the start; and races could have been abandoned if the wind stayed above 23 knots for more than five minutes after the start. Although some races were cancelled before the start because of too much wind, none was abandoned after the start, and many times the boats sailed in winds approaching 30 knots in brief gusts.
The RNZYS, which will be responsible for running the America's Cup races, has announced that there will be no stated wind limits for the series. The race committee will make it decisions based on the conditions at the time. If the wind is blowing from the westerly quadrant - off the land - the seas would be relatively flat and a race might be sailed in winds of 25 knots plus. On the other hand, if a Northeasterly comes in from the open Pacific and kicks up a seaway that would be particularly damaging to the boats, the committee could decide to sail another day.
The Kiwis knew they would have to leap frog their own 1995 designs in order to beat the 2000 challenger, and both the new boats are reported to be considerably faster than NZL 32. They expect to decide early in February which boat they will use in the Cup match, but whichever it is, there will be familiar faces on board. The helmsman will once again be Russell Coutts, the Olympic Gold Medal winner who sailed Black Magic to its lopsided victory over Young America in 1995. Again his tactician will be prematurely gray Brad Butterworth, the 40 year old "big picture" expert who has been with Coutts not only in the America's Cup, but also in scores of match race events over the past 10 years.
This year the New Zealanders have put together two complete crews of superbly trained sailors. Last time they frequently had to call on the maintenance staff and tender drivers to make up the numbers for two-boat testing. The difference is that now they are campaigning at home, and working with New Zealand dollars, which are worth about 50 cents U.S. In 1995 they operated at the wrong end of the long and expensive pipeline that stretched across the Pacific to San Diego.
It is all part of the home court advantage that the Kiwis hope will make upfor not having had the variety of competition enjoyed by the challenger they will face for the first time on February 19.