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Sailing: Crew use shirts to plug leak

TEAM NEW ZEALAND sailors tore off their shirts and formed a bucket brigade to save their America's Cup-winning boat from sinking in the Hauraki Gulf yesterday.

Black Magic II began taking on water a few miles north of Rangitoto Island on Monday afternoon after her rudder broke loose. The crew of the boat, one of the two in which New Zealand won the Cup in 1995, heard a bang and rushed below deck, finding themselves knee-deep in water. The Team New Zealand designer, Tom Schnackenberg, who was on board, said it was all hands below deck to stop the boat from going under.

"The water was coming in pretty fast," he said. "The boys took their shirts off and we were chucking them around the hole to try to plug it up."

"We had the bucket brigade going and we were using our drink pump, which makes fresh water, to try to empty it out."

The local coastguard came to the boat's rescue with three larger pumps and the Auckland police launch Deodar arrived with another.

"If we hadn't been able to stop the water coming in, we would have sunk easily," Schnackenberg said. "If the hull was weaker around the rudder we would have been in a lot more trouble."

Black Magic II, or NZL38, had been racing against the other black boat, NZL32, Black Magic I, when it hit trouble. A crewman, Barry McKay said no one was sure what had happened. Three of the crew dived into the sea and eventually removed the broken rudder.

"There's a possibility that we hit something," McKay said. "We couldn't move the boat because the rudder was flopping around, damaging the bottom of the boat."

Once the seawater was drained, the yacht was towed back to the America's Cup village at the Viaduct Basin by Team New Zealand towboats. Black Magic II is likely to be out of the water for repairs for the next two days, team officials said.

The challenger series for the America's Cup starts in October, carrying through to the finals next January and February.

With the Australian team winning a protest over their British rivals after finishing tied for the international series at Sandringham Yacht Club in Melbourne, the prize for the 14-foot Skiffs went turn and turn about to the two countries.

The Australian B team also edged out Britain B in the struggle for third and fourth places.

The event is one of 16 world championships being run around Melbourne harbour over the next two weeks, seven of them for the Olympic classes, with nearly 2,000 sailors from around the world competing.

In Auckland, the United States-based Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Mouligne, won the 50-foot Class II second leg of the Around Alone Race from Cape Town. He beat not only Britain's Mike Garside into second place but also finished ahead of Josh Hall, who has yet to finish in his new Class I 60-footer Gartmore.