Italians 'buzz' training Kiwis

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The Independent Online

The first unscheduled skirmish between the New Zealand America's Cup defence syndicate and their Italian challengers saw the two teams lining up against each other on the Hauraki Gulf yesterday.

The first unscheduled skirmish between the New Zealand America's Cup defence syndicate and their Italian challengers saw the two teams lining up against each other on the Hauraki Gulf yesterday.

Team New Zealand took the opportunity to emerge from the shadow of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger trials, hold a demonstration in-house race, and remind the rest of the world that this was their patch and they were the holders of the Cup.

But, as they were sailing home, the two Prada boats, which had also been practising all day, first positioned themselves to sail in parallel, but 400 yards away and well outside the agreed 200-yard limit. Then the newer Luna Rossa, which the Italians have rejected for the best-of-nine match which starts on 19 February, sailed alongside Black Magic, which the New Zealanders are expected to drop when they announce their choice on Monday.

Both sides were very cagey, with the Italian boat being steered by the coach Rod Davis and the black boat by the TNZ back-up helmsman Dean Barker. Neither side was prepared to say how performance compared and the Italians broke contact early. There did not appear to be much in it, but the Kiwis had old sails and a mast which is a generation behind the one they will use in the match.

The expectation is that they will choose the narrower, newer NZL60 with skipper Russell Coutts staying faithful to his 1995 cup-winning afterguard of Brad Butterworth, Rick Dodson and Murray Jones. Simon Daubney will lead the sail trim team, the middle of the boat will be run by Matt Mason and Jeremy Scantlebury, the power on the winches will come from Andrew Taylor and Olympic bronze medallist Craig Monk, while the bow will be the reserve of Dean Phipps.

The most noticeable differences between the boats are the fuller bow of the New Zealand yacht and the three-spreader mast, the result of two years' development research. Both defender and challenger have developed Code 0 headsails for light airs, but only the Italians will have "Cuben fibre" cloth for the spinnakers. "We have no access to Cuben fibre because of an exclusive deal with the Italians," said Butterworth. "Yes, we would love to have use of it, but we asked and have been denied it."

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