Black Magic has too many tricks

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The Independent Online

Team New Zealand, and their powerful and superbly equipped yacht Black Magic, beat the Italian challengers in the first race of the America's Cup here yesterday.

Team New Zealand, and their powerful and superbly equipped yacht Black Magic, beat the Italian challengers in the first race of the America's Cup here yesterday.

Prada's Luna Rossa, the proud winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup during the winter's challenge series, was totally eclipsed as New Zealand became the first country other than America to win a race as the defender.

After a 24-hour postponement due to a lack of wind, conditions were exactly those which were thought to be to Prada's liking, 11-14 knots and flat water. The Kiwis revelled in them, however, and patiently kept pace for the first 18 minutes of the 2hr 20min, 18.5-mile race, and then moved decisively ahead.

The New Zealand lead at the first top mark was 25 seconds and at the bottom 36, and they stretched their advantage to 63 at the top next time round. Prada rallied on the second spinnaker run as stronger puffs of wind came from astern, but turning for the final run Team New Zealand were 1min 16sec ahead and they added another second on the final leg.

Francesco de Angelis, the skipper of Prada, said some shifts in wind direction and strength, plus an inability to cross to the favoured right-hand side of the course, had cost his team the race.

"It was the beginning," he said. "It was a good learning experience. "We are ready for the next race on Wednesday."

His rival, Russell Coutts, avoided any discussion, but the New Zealand sail trimmer Simon Daubney said: "There's a nice feeling in the team that we've finally been racing for real. The boats seem pretty even in speed and I think it's going to be a good contest."

There are all sorts of gizmos which time and attention to detail have allowed Team New Zealand to develop, but the main advantage lies in the mast - they were also well ahead of the game in that respect in 1995 - and the shape of both the sails the yacht carries and the hull they drive.

The New Zealanders have worked hard on their defence. They have been innovative in the design of their black-hulled boat, are aggressive tactically and displayed immaculate crew work. If the reception the team received from an adoring crowd as they returned to their Viaduct Basin compound is any indication, the whole city will explode if they score the vital fifth win which keeps the Cup Down Under.

The Italians have shown they can battle, and they will fight again, but the New Zealanders' celebration party could well be next Sunday.

Yesterday the home team barely seemed to need their new, cool cycle racing-style tops and Lycra shorts. They hardly broke sweat during what was just another day at the office.

AMERICA'S CUP: Race 1 (best of nine); Team New Zealand bt Prada Challenge (ITA) by 1min 17sec.

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