SAILING: Blake savours total victory

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The Independent Online
SAILING

STUART ALEXANDER

reports from San Diego

It could have gone to a best of 11, 15 or 19 and only a sinking would have stopped the march of Russell Coutts and Team New Zealand to total victory over the United States to win the America's Cup.

Total belief in themselves and their programme resulted in a total victory by 5-0 in the best-of-nine series. "Did we slaughter them or what?" asked a jubilant designer, Doug Peterson. "Isn't it incredible. It's never happened like this before." It was five home runs from hitters with a mighty swing.

Comparisons with Hillary conquering Everest, and some of the crushing All Black rugby victories, were quickly being made by New Zealanders who see this as one of the proudest moments in their history. "It was an awesome programme and they deserved to win," said Paul Cayard, who did most of the helming for Dennis Conner on the boat he finally used to defend, Young America.

Conner himself was in gracious mood, saying Auckland would be a great home for the America's Cup. "If it had to leave American shores it couldn't go to a nicer place than the City of Sails," he said.

Doubtless, despite protestations of focusing on the Olympics and the 1997-8 Whitbread, he will back to challenge as he did when he lost the cup to Australia in 1983, while Cayard added it was "110 per cent sure" he would also be competing, before helping to give both Coutts and syndicate boss Peter Blake a ducking.

The measure of New Zealand's superiority is shown by their 42 wins out of 43 starts in four rounds-robin, a Louis Vuitton Cup semi-final and final, and in the match itself. They lost one on a technicality in the protest room early on, broke off from racing and did not finish when oneAustralia sank, and lost one to the replacement Aussie boat, by 15 seconds, when Coutts fluffed the start, the electronic instruments blacked out, and a hydraulic fluid spillage turned the deck into a skating rink.

There were no fluffs in the cup itself, when all the components worked on so carefully and lovingly for two years came to polished perfection. Only twice did Conner have the chance to cross ahead of Black Magic, he never led around a mark, and the gamble of switching yachts from the Stars And Stripes, in which he won the defence job, to Young America, thought to be faster, failed.

As always in the America's Cup, the Kiwis won because they had a faster boat. But their example to other nations with a strong yachting heritage and industries at the leading edge of technology should be an inspiration for an event in the year 2000 which should attract a dozen challengers, including some strong ones from the United States.

Hardly had the 77-foot black boat crossed the finish line before the New York Yacht Club, original winners of the cup in Britain in 1851, originators of the event, and holders for 132 years, had slapped a challenge into the hands of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. It had been discussed for days, but there is some irony in that those who had for so long been seen as the bad boys, messing around with the rules, were now being chosen by New Zealand as dignified stalwarts to help clean up the cup.

The moments of celebration were over all too quickly before argument was raging over New Zealand's declared intention on having a near five- year gap before the next cup in March 2000. There is a lot in between, including an Olympics and a Whitbread, and they plan to spend £20m developing facilities in downtown Auckland.

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