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Cup Talk of the National Business Review

by Ivor Wilkins

The winner is the right one
The biggest Cup game in town right now is trying to predict the unpredictable: who is going to win between Team New Zealand and Alinghi? Peter Gilmour, skipper of OneWorld, is one of the more astute judges of yachting horseflesh. He is not saying who will win but he does predict that the outcome will be one-sided. That's because the boats are so different that he feels sure that in whatever weather conditions prevail, one will be strong and the other not. It calls to mind the reaction of the Marquis of Angelsea in 1851 when he first gazed upon the black schooner, America. If she is right, then all of us are wrong," he declared. How right he was.

Our own version of the Gulf War
Hostilities between Team New Zealand and Alinghi opened somewhat prematurely. Long before their date with destiny on February 15, members of the two teams have been waging little turf wars out on the Hauraki Gulf. The battleships tend to be the inflatable chase boats that follow the yachts around. Trouble is, the chase boats are supposed to follow their own yachts, whereas they sometimes get confused and trail the opposition yachts. Tempers have become frayed as the two teams discourage each other from getting too close and police recently fined Alinghi $10,000 for invading Team New Zealand's space. It all brings new meaning to the term Gulf War.

What comes around …
During his reign at Team New Zealand, Russell Coutts was known to impose a tough regime. Anyone who broke ranks or offended his sensibilities was branded a lifer," which meant being totally ostracised. Ross Halcrow and Jamie Gale were both made lifers for leaving Team New Zealand to join the Young America team in 1997 and a Coutts email to Halcrow at the time severely took him to task for his lack of loyalty. It was bound to resurface and, of course, it did - to great excitement in the world of talkback radio, where all the great moral issues of our time are resolved every five minutes.

There's focus and then there's Coutts
Bring together legends of the past 20 years of the America's Cup and the stories are bound to flow. That's what happened when Louis Vuitton hosted a special dinner recently to mark its 20 years of backing the Challenger series. One gem was of Sir Michael Fay's reaction when a youthful Russell Coutts wanted to use the New Zealand Challenge facilities in Fremantle, Australia, to repair his skiff mast. Impressed by Coutts' single-minded focus, Fay apparently noted, God, he makes Chris Dickson look positively distracted!" Given Dickson's combative determination, that is saying something.

Still waiting after all these years
Another nice vignette during the Louis Vuitton dinner was when New Zealand's Cup debut was recalled. Dennis Conner didn't like the fact that New Zealand had built the world's first fibreglass 12m yachts for the Fremantle series. Why would you build a glass boat unless you wanted to cheat?" demanded Conner at an aggressive media conference 16 years ago. Reminded of that last week, Conner was unrepentant. To appreciative roars of laughter, he turned to Fay sitting at the same table and said he was still waiting for an answer to that question. None was forthcoming.

Rod's part of the family
In preparation for the America's Cup, Team New Zealand has been engaged in some fearsome in-house racing. But skipper Dean Barker needed to add variety to his jousting partners, so Rod Davis was invited to spar. There are few skippers as experienced as Rod - or as multi-national. He has campaigned in the Cup as an American, a New Zealander, an Australian and with Prada as an Italian. A native of San Diego, he has lived in New Zealand for many years. He is part of the family - literally. His brother-in-law is Tom Schnackenberg.

Six times lucky
There have been some big losers in the Cup regatta so far but probably none bigger than Larry Ellison's Oracle BMW Racing team. Having spent nearly $US100 million, the software billionaire had a lot riding on this campaign. But none in the team will feel the loss more keenly than New Zealand-born designer Bruce Farr. Long regarded as the greatest living yacht designer, Farr has won virtually every contest he has designed yachts for - except the America's Cup. If ever the stars were going to align for Farr it was surely this time, with a huge budget and some of the best brains in the business recruited to his design team. But the Cup has been known to defy the odds before and it did it again this time. The rumour is Ellison is keeping faith and has already booked Farr for his next America's Cup ride.