The inevitable

Team New Zealand take the International Regatta 5-1, beating GBR Challenge today.

Saturday February 16th 2002, Author: Nigel Cherrie, Location: Australasia


Just as feared (but expected), Team New Zealand walked away with the International America’s Cup Regatta in Auckland today.

If they can start their defence in the 31st America's Cup final a year from today with the same form they have displayed this week, the oldest trophy in sport will be kept in its cabinet at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron for another three years at least.

And it's all about boat speed.

It was unquestionably an invaluable learning curve for GBR Challenge, OneWorld and Victory to try their luck and learn from the defenders but the writing on the wall was so clear, it was almost in brail. The aging NZL-60 is still a country mile faster than GBR-52 and USA-55, both 2000 generation yachts, while even SWE-38, a 2003-generation design, failed to make any real impression.

The task the challengers are up against is not just to emulate NZL-60's form, but jump a whole generation and find an even faster formula than Team New Zealand are currently working towards, as it is safe to assume their next yacht can only be quicker.

As for the British syndicate, GBR-52 was clearly no match for the others in the light airs that dominated the week and Peter Harrison's team finished fourth with only one win from six starts.

That said, the results do not tell the whole story as skipper Ian Walker and his crew will re-commence their training programme next week a lot wiser for the experience.

"Everyone is upbeat," explained Walker in the post race press briefing. "We said at the start of the week we weren't too worried about the results because that was going to be tough against NZL-60, Sweden's new boat and a team like OneWorld."

The pre-starts (helmed by either Andy Beadsworth or Green) were unquestionably the teams greatest strength.

"We wanted to have good starts and have good boat handling and I think we have sailed very well. We have won absolutely every single start, placed three penalties on the opposition and although we have made small mistakes we have been in a boat that goes a little slower than the others in light winds," added Ian.

The series was completed with GBR Challenge facing Team New Zealand (who pretty much had the event sealed up) while OneWorld and Victory went head to head for second position overall.

After a three hour delay, a 6-8 knot light and unstable breeze materialized, but it gradually faded to a mere 2-3 knots by the time the teams had sailed four laps of a 2.5 mile windward/leeward course.

Many teams will be hoping this weeks weather is not a prelude for what should be expected this time next year or most races could be a roll of the dice.

First up were the British and Kiwi's with the young and aggressive Andy Green doing a masterful job in the pre-start to completely put one over on Dean Barker.

Even Barker had to admit he was simply bowled over. "It was one of those interesting ones you try and forget about pretty quickly," he reflected afterwards.

Barker, who wanted the pin end, had control initially as the two yachts held head to wind, but the Kiwis were in danger of being late for the pin end of the line so rolled off to starboard and into a gybe with GBR52 following suite.

Green had better speed into and out of the gybe and hooked Barker, who, as the give way boat, had to keep clear. NZL-60 tacked out of the way but was already over the line and sailing slowly. By time Barker recovered and crossed the line properly, the British yacht had a one-minute lead.

But in a remarkable come back, the black boat sped up the right hand side of the beat, where some local knowledge came into play and was back in touch by the time GBR-52 reached the first windward mark. "The writing was on the wall half way up the beat, they were coming at us," joked Walker later.

Green tried to engage Barker into a luffing match in an attempt to slow down NZL-60 and equalize the yachts to give the British crew a fighting chance downwind.

However, Barker had enough pace to simply sail over the top and around the British yacht. It was over there and then. The difference at the finish was two minutes and thirty seconds in favour of NZL-60.

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