SAILING: Blake enjoys success with human touch

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The Independent Online


reports from San Diego

The Kiwis are feeling pretty confident these days. After the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Michael Fay regime, Peter Blake is running an altogether more relaxed team, based right in the middle of the favourite bars and restaurants here while the two "black boats" are so much faster on the water that skipper Russell Coutts' opponents have given up thoughts of bringing him down. They are racing for second place in the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Sometimes it can be painful to watch as Coutts the conservative comes from behind, climbing all over a rival as though with crampons, using human as well as boat hull footholds to claw his way to the front. It is a reserve of power that has been the goal of every America's Cup competitor, defender or challenger, and Blake is proud it has been achieved by human intuition, not just computers.

"We have just as good computer capacity as everyone else, and the people to drive them," said the man who clearly hated life with the Cup in 1992 and now says he is enjoying it very much. "You can have as much technology as you like, though, but first and foremost you need people with ideas."

On a relatively small budget - under £11m - they have come up with a pair of boats, either of which seems capable of winning the challenge slot against the six other contenders. They are also giving their sponsors, from the state-owned Lotto to the ubiquitous Steinlager, a great ride for their money.

"Everything over $100 I sign off personally," said Blake, who has that touch of Scottish presbyterianism that Kiwis often demonstrate in their approach to money. "I'm never allowed to go into the red - the trustees won't let us."

But this time it seems to be coming good. "This won't make Coutts - he is already made," Blake said, "He is quite brilliant. It's his programme. He's really grabbed the thing.

"If we are fortunate enough to win the Louis Vuitton Cup, it would be very nice, but if we went on and didn't win the America's Cup it wouldn't mean anything," said a smiling Blake, who is also sailing on the boat at the grand old age of 46.

And the Aussies, considered so strong before the months of trial races began? "We'll be just fine. We probably have the most vicious racing in- house, including bangs and holes. We did about 20 starts the other day. That got the sweat up. We'll be just fine."

The co-ed crew of 15 women and one man on Bill Koch's Mighty Mary boosted morale with a strong performance against Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes, leading by nearly two minutes at the halfway point of ther defender race.

While Coutts was making easy work of beating Nippon Challenge, leading by over 100 seconds at the end of the first leg, Chris Dickson's Tag Heuer was giving Rod Davis a hard time in oneAustralia.

Dickson built a handy lead over the opening three miles, and was still leading comfortably as he made the final turn for home.