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America's Cup: March 2 - Remembering the 20th anniversary of the Kiwi Defence

by AC2000 Media/Paul Todd 4 Mar 2020 01:23 PST 4 March 2020
Peter Kingston (RNZYS Commodore), Russell Coutts, Dean Barker - presentation ceremony America's Cup - March 2, 2000 - Auckland © Marda Phelps

Two decades ago this week, Team New Zealand made history on March 2, 2000, when it became the first team to defend the America's Cup successfully outside of the United States.

Here's the official Match Summary from the Louis Vuitton Media Centre, with images from Paul Todd of Outside Images. The full America's Cup gallery spanning 45 years of photography can be seen by clicking here

The Kiwis did it in style, winning five consecutive races over Luna Rossa from the Prada Challenge for a 5-0 series win.

Before Race 1, speculation was rampant as to which boat would be faster. Team New Zealand did not hold a Defender selection series, and thus all of its practice racing was in-house. No one knew how it would compete against the battle-hardened Challenger from Italy. After all of the build-up, Race 1 was postponed for one day due to lack of wind, heightening the anticipation.

Race 1, eventually started on February 20, would prove to serve as a template for the rest of the series (right down to the delay for lack of wind!).

Team New Zealand won the favoured side at the start, convened that into a top mark lead, and covered the rest of the way for the win. The race started in light 8-10 knot Southerly breezes, and Team New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts showed the in-house racing had prepared him well for the challenge. Coutts forced two dial-ups, and relentlessly protected the favoured right side of the start line. Italian skipper Francesco de Angelis started well and gained on an early lift, but Coutts was soon able to establish a controlling position and forced Luna Rossa to the port tack lay line.

Team New Zealand pressed that advantage into a 22secs lead at the top mark, and never looked back. The Kiwis pulled further ahead on the first run and stretched well away on the second beat.

Halfway through the race, Coutts held a commanding 63secs lead.

When Luna Rossa cut that in half on the second run, Team New Zealand shut down any hope of a comeback by gaining 41secs on the final upwind leg. The Kiwis went on to win the race by 67secs. The Team New Zealand afterguard ruffled a few feathers when it didn't show up for the post-race press conference, but trimmer Simon Daubney summed up the feelings in the Kiwi camp nicely.

"We're very happy after the long, long wait to finally go racing today, and we're very happy with the result."

Race 2 would be a low point for Luna Rossa.

The Italians couldn't convert the starboard tack entry at the start into an early lead and then suffered setback after setback on the way to their biggest loss of the series. Coutts escaped brilliantly from the dial-up and forced de Angelis above the Committee Boat until Team Zealand timed its run for the start line.

The Kiwis held an 18sec lead at the start and were already covering Luna Rossa as the boats tacked across the line. Then, Italian mid-bowman Massimiliano Sirena suffered a head wound when he was hit in the head by the carbon fibre weed stick that crews use to clear weeds from the keel.

He was using the weed stick because Luna Rossa had slowed dramatically as debris became entangled on the keel. For much of the first beat, Luna Rossa was distracted crying to clear the keel and attend to Sirena, whose blood could be seen streaked along the side of the silver boat Team New Zealand led at the first mark by a monstrous 139secs, and the Italians never recovered.

Race 3 was also abandoned for a day due to light winds and started two days later in a 10-12 knot Southerly.

As in Race 1, Coutts was able to translate the dial-up into a strong position and started where he wanted to on the right side of the line. Luna Rossa was behind on the first cross, and an intense tacking dud ensued with the boats reeling off 12 tacks early in the first leg. Coutts protected the right side of the course, and de Angelis couldn't breakthrough. Team ew Zealand settled into windward of Luna Rossa for a long tack to the mark and carried a 19sec lead around the mark.

The Italians were aggressive on the first run and cut two-seconds out of the lead, but that was as close as they would get Coutts was well positioned on a wind shift early in leg three and pulled away for another comfortable win. The Kiwis were up 3-0. Italian skipper Francesco de Angelis summed up the Match so far, saying, "I think they are making almost no mistakes and in a race like today, for instance, there were no passing lanes, It is hard to pass them once they are ahead."

In Race 4 Prada Challenge had its best opportunity to rack up a win. While the start was still won by Team New Zealand, early on in the beat, the wind shifted in the Italians' favour. When Coutts tacked, de Angelis held the starboard tack advantage and Team New Zealand couldn't cross ahead. The boats split tacks three times, and on the third convergence, the Italians made a fateful decision.

As Coutts ducked to pass behind Luna Rossa, de Angelis continued on instead of tacking to cover. The wind soon shifted to the right, favouring Team New Zealand, and the Kiwis were away. With the boats 700 metres apart, the small wind shift translated into a big advantage for Team New Zealand which went on to lead by 45sec at the first mark. Luna Rossa never recovered.

The win also put Russell Coutts into the record books. Going back to 1995, he had won nine consecutive America's Cup races, tying a century-old record held by Charlie Barr. [Now held by Jimmy Spithill on 13 wins from the 2010 and 2013 America's Cups]

The next day, Coutts made a decision that starkly demonstrated the "team concept" behind Team New Zealand.

For Race 5, he handed the helm over to his young protege Dean Barker. The Kiwis had been making regular crew substitutions throughout the Match, and now it was the skipper's turn.

While Coutts wouldn't get the record for most consecutive wins on this day, Barker would establish a record of his own. The 26-year old became the youngest helmsman to sail in an America's Cup Match. During the start, Barker showed his youth wasn't a disadvantage. He overwhelmed the Italians on the startline, and drove his black boat over the line with a 7sec lead.

And, as Team New Zealand had demonstrated in the previous four races, they could press an early lead into a convincing win. Young Barker didn't make any mistakes the rest of the way, and two hours later the America's Cup was still New Zealand's Cup.

To see 45 years of America's Cup images from Paul Todd of Outside Images. See the full America's Cup gallery spanning 45 years of photography by clicking here

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