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America's Cup: Suzanne McFadden begins adding another chapter on 25 years of Cup coverage

by Suzanne McFadden 22 Nov 2020 16:19 PST 23 November 2020
Emirates Team New Zealand reveal 'Te Rehutai' - their second generation AC75 © Emirates Team New Zealand

The final countdown to the 36th America's Cup began with the launch of Team NZ's 'spaceship' race boat, Te Rehutai. Newsroom's Suzanne McFadden has been covering the race for the world's oldest sports trophy since 1995, but has been wavering on whether to be drawn in again.

It's been a year since I last saw Emirates Team New Zealand.

Granted, we've both been busy. And a couple of pandemic lockdowns demanded distance too.

But to be honest, after a 25-year on-again, off-again love affair with the Auld Mug, I've kept myself at arm's length from an America's Cup that can't shake off its old shenanigans.

Team NZ's boss Grant Dalton assures me I haven't really missed that much. "If you'd gone to sleep for a year and came back, you'd see the same people and the same old shit basically," he says in his typical straightforward way.

"The normal America's Cup antics, the fast development of boats. But Covid has changed things for everyone."

It was those antics that kept me on the fringes. The bitter row between the defender and the government, involving whistleblowers and lawsuits (lingering). The 'Battle of North Head' over close-to-shore racecourses (now hopefully resolved). The faltering relationships between teams who once worked together (who knows where this is headed?).

Of course, I'm not so naïve to think this America's Cup would be devoid of this kind of controversy and muck-racking. As a younger journalist I thrived on it, so maybe I've become too cynical. Or maybe we just needed a break.

But last week, I was drawn back by the lure of another revolutionary Team NZ boat. The sleek ugly duckling Te Rehutai delivered. And the Cup dug its hooks into me once again.

I don't think it's just me. Most New Zealanders have a cyclical relationship with the America's Cup. In the years between regattas, only the keenest of fans are drawn in by the technological race, the rule negotiating, the spying, the rumours and innuendo.

The rest tune out between regattas, but spark back to life when the boats finally cross tacks on the water. Especially when Team NZ are in front. And it's on our own doorstep.

But how could you not be a little smitten with the Auld Mug? Its glamour, history and mystique; the dog-eat-dog rivalry; and the pure speed, cutting-edge innovation and clever choreography of the racing yachts - now flying machines buzzing above the water on their foils, pushing the invisible 50 knot barrier.

For me, above all else, it's the characters. And there are plenty who've been enmeshed in the Cup for more than 20 years and are back for more.

Mr Bertelli (aka Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli), the fast-talking Aussie-turned-American-turned Italian Jimmy Spithill, Team NZ's warhorse Kevin Shoebridge, the regatta director 'Big Fella' Iain Murray (on board One Australia the day it sank off San Diego in 1995) and Luna Rossa's facilitator, Brad 'Billy' Butterworth. And the ebullient Bruno Troublé.

A fixture in the America's Cup since 1977, the Frenchman is back in his second home (he's an honorary member of the New Zealand Order of Merit) and was at the launch of Te Rehutai just hours after being released from his 14 days of requisite isolation in an Auckland hotel.

He's here, he says, to look after the swanky parties, the entertaining and acerbic press conferences and to generally hype up the event. He's great at it.

Troublé talks about this Cup and its radical flying monohulls "showing the past to the future". But at the same time he admits these AC75 yachts are out of the financial range of the "fun teams" the America's Cup still needs to survive.

Attracting only three challengers to this Cup is "a problem, a downside", Troublé acknowledges.

For the rest of the story click here.

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