SAILING Relentless New Zealand look for a quick finish

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The Independent Online


reports from San Diego

The officials of the San Diego Yacht Club were keen to quote the America's Cup match of 1871 when justifying their shifty shuffle of boats and crews to defend in 1995, but they may be less comfortable when reminded that 1871 was also the last date when an American defender was beaten by as much as Team New Zealand trounced Dennis Conner to go 2-0 up.

In 1871 it was even more - over 15 minutes - than the four minutes and 14 seconds by which Russell Coutts took Black Magic over the finish line ahead of Conner in Young America. But this was a withering defeat for a crew who have been caught unaware by the speed differential between the two yachts.

The Kiwis have been in relentless form in nearly every race since they lined up on 14 January for the first round-robin. They have lost only one race, and in that all their instruments were down and the deck was covered in hydraulic fluid. They said nothing, made no excuses, and carried on with their work.

There was a similar lack of emotion this time as they left the Americans scratching their heads over what they could do to stop the rot. "That's the way we are," the team boss, Peter Blake, said. "We came here to win the America's Cup. We haven't done anything yet. We're not even half-way there.''

And his tactician, Brad Butterworth, whose wife was giving birth to a daughter at the time, just said: "I don't know if its been born. I know it's imminent." "Maybe you'd better go home," said Conner's tactician, Tom Whidden, clutching at any straw.

While Whidden will not say that Conner made a mistake by ditching the Dave Pedrick-designed Stars & Stripes for the Bruce Nelson-designed Young America, which was originally campaigned by John Marshall's Pact '95 syndicate, Blake is less reticent.

"They are struggling with their boat and, whatever they say, they would have been better off with the old boat than the new one," he said. "We have seen them practising and Stars & Stripes looked mighty good in light air."

Whidden did admit that choosing the left-hand side of the course might have been a mistake as Coutts, who started on the right-hand side, was two seconds behind Paul Cayard, who was driving Young America, at the gun.

Coutts was sure that choosing the right would pay off, and he was proved right. He also had extra height and speed and once he got his nose in front on the first leg neither Cayard, helming upwind, nor Conner, who took charge downwind, was able to find any chance to attack.

Some of the Kiwi supporters in town are already booking seats home, expecting the contest to be over by the weekend and the cup being paraded down Queen Street just a few days later. They may just be right.

AMERICA'S CUP Race Two: Team New Zealand bt Young America, 4min 14sec. Team New Zealand leads Young America, 2-0 (best of nine series).