Emirates Team New Zealand is challenging for the 2013 America’s Cup to be sailed at San Francisco in 2013. It is the only commercially funded sailing team to survive from the last multi-challenger America’s Cup event raced at Valencia in 2007.
It is one of only three challengers likely to make it to the start of the Louis Vuitton Cup challengers elimination series at San Francisco in July 2013
Since 2007, the team has diversified to stay alive, competing in the Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup World Series.
In 2009 and 2010, the team competed successfully on the Audi MedCup series, winning the championship on both years, and the Louis Vuitton Trophy series, winning four of five regattas.
The team’s beginnings go back to the 1987 America’s Cup sailed off Fremantle, West Australia.
In 1995, few New Zealanders would have been unaware of the America’s Cup regatta in San Diego and the public watched enthralled as their team clinically dismembered first the challengers and then the defender.
In a flawless display, an efficient and focused team gave New Zealand a great sense of national pride. Led by Peter Blake a celebrated round-the-world racing yachtsman, with Russell Coutts as skipper, Team New Zealand’s triumph was the stuff of New Zealand dreams…. beating bigger, better financed teams and beating them well.
For New Zealanders, their team and the America’s Cup came to typify many of the nation’s values – a can-do spirit, teamwork, taking on the big guy, accepting a challenge and striving for excellence.
In 2011, more than 15 years on from the Cup win in San Diego, through a successful defence, an acrimonious team disintegration followed by an almost inevitable disastrous defeat, and a painstaking rebuild, the brand has remained strong.
Perhaps we should backtrack to the beginning, to set the stage for the emergence of Emirates Team New Zealand. The America’s Cup is the world’s oldest sporting trophy, first contested in 1851 when the schooner America crossed the Atlantic and beat 15 British yachts.
The trophy, then the 100 guineas Cup, became known as the America’s Cup, named for the yacht rather than the country.
Over 150 years, in battles on and off the water, the America’s Cup had become the epitome of excellence in a sport where sportsmanship was rarely seen and oversized egos clashed head to head … a contest that matches the best in the world in a desperate struggle on the water in which there is a winner, but no second place.
Strong New Zealand personalities have been associated with the challenges – businessman Sir Michael Fay, skipper Chris Dickson, Sir Peter Blake, Russell Coutts and now Grant Dalton.
Until the Australians took the cup to Perth anyone brave enough to suggest little New Zealand could match the United States in sporting event dominated by technology and cash would have been a laughing stock.
We had the designers, the boat builders, the sail makers, the riggers and the yachtsmen, no question about that but, where could a nation of just over three million people get the money?
With backing from merchant bankers Fay and David Richwhite, the New Zealand Challenge made its debut for the 1987 Cup. We built fibre-glass 12-metre yachts, rather than using wood or aluminium. This upstart challenge rattled the opposition and America’s Cup veteran Dennis Conner, who lost to the Australia in Newport in 1983, accused us of cheating.
Against the odds the “Plastic Fantastic” KZ7 romped through the challenger rounds, winning 37 of 38 matches. The Kiwi charge was halted by Dennis Conner, Sailing for the San Diego yacht club in the finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup.
The next chapter in the America’s Cup was one of those that add to the intrigue that surrounds the Old Mug. And this time New Zealand was centre stage.
Not content to wait out the usual three or four-year Cup cycle, Sir Michael Fay issued a challenge to the San Diego Yacht Club abandoned the established 12-Metre class and returned to the 90ft waterline measurement stipulated in the Deed of Gift.
The challenging yacht was KZ1, a massive carbon-fibre monohull with wings extending from the deck like an aircraft carrier. Even in light winds, the 30 crew had to sit out on the wings to keep it upright.
For the first and only time in the Cup’s history, the defender was a catamaran, Stars & Stripes, skippered by Dennis Conner. Predictably, the cat won on the water and a protracted court battle followed. Ultimately, New Zealand lost, but once again we had reshaped the event. The 12-Metres would never sail Cup races again and the America’s Cup Class (ACC) yachts were born.
By 1992, New Zealand was recognised as a force to be reckoned with in Cup racing. Having been instrumental in the birth of the new ACC yachts, New Zealand built a short, wide, light Bruce Farr design sporting an unusual double strut keel and no rudder.
The distinctive NZL-20 was dubbed a “skiff on steroids”. Skippered by Rod Davis, the Kiwis rocketed through to the Louis Vuitton Challenger finals. But, controversy erupted again when their Italian Il Moro di Venezia rivals mounted a campaign against NZL-20′s bowsprit.
Having led the series 4-1, New Zealand (the team and the nation) watched in disbelief as the Italians come from behind to win by 5-4 and win the right to challenge for the America’s Cup.
Fay and Richwhite decided not to back further Cup challenges, so Peter Blake, feeling that tiny New Zealand could indeed beat the mighty Americans, took up the banner.
He changed the team’s name to the simple Team New Zealand. The silver fern became an element of the logo and then a masterstroke that every New Zealander could relate to – the boats were black – and they set about building the team for the 1995 Cup.
The team concentrated on producing superbly designed and meticulously detailed yachts. Tom Schnackenberg led the design team. Skipper Russell Coutts built a superb sailing team and the ever-present Peter Blake kept the campaign on course and concentrated on raising the sponsorship to make it all possible.
Team New Zealand’s 1995 campaign has been described as a textbook study of how to go about winning sport’s oldest and most elusive trophy.
The team took the country along with them. People sat glued to their television sets as Team New Zealand swept all before them. Helmed by Russell Coutts, the Black Magics NZL32 and NZL38 rocketed to ultimate glory. Team New Zealand won the Louis Vuitton series convincingly and continued on to America’s Cup victory with a 5-0 drubbing of Team Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes.
In the eight years the America’s Cup was in residence at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, it brought more than a billion dollars into the New Zealand economy, inspired the redevelopment of a rundown waterfront in Auckland city, grew a thriving boat building and services industry grew and, because of the publicity generated internationally, a small country at the edge of the south-west Pacific ocean became the in holiday destination for millions.
Team New Zealand can proudly claim to be the catalyst for all that.
Blake and his team set about creating a venue like no other to stage the 2000 America’s Cup. Blake demanded and got financial backing from the Government and the Auckland City Council to redevelop the Viaduct Basin, a run-down base for a few fishing boats.
Blake got his way. His vision of the Auckland waterfront transformed into a Cup village, with all the syndicates concentrated in a single area like pits in a Formula One Grand Prix was a reality and New Zealand staged a magnificent regatta in 2000.
While Auckland City was preparing for the influx of people, yachts and business, the team began preparing its defence with Tom Schnackenberg heading design and Russell Coutts leading the sailing team.
Eleven syndicates from seven countries turned up in Auckland, which again, redefined the Cup contest.
After a bruising Louis Vuitton challenger series, the Italian team Prada was selected to challenge for the Cup. But, in a repeat of the 1995 result, Team New Zealand’s black machine NZL60 eliminated the Italian challenge by 5-0.
Peter Blake, Russell Coutts and a young Dean Barker were national heroes. A raptuous crowd greeted the black boats as they returned to the Viaduct.
In the months that followed, Team New Zealand fell apart. Sir Peter Blake and key members of his management team stepped aside, allowing Tom Schnackenberg, Russell Coutts and tactician Brad Butterworth to establish the framework for a new-look syndicate.
Within weeks Coutts and Butterworth had left to take up positions with the Swiss-based Alinghi syndicate. In the vacuum that followed a number of team members accepted offers of work with other syndicates before Tom Schnackenberg and the new directors were able to secure seed money from the Government to allow the team to begin rebuilding.
By the summer of 2000-01 the black boats were back on the Hauraki Gulf beginning the extensive training and testing so critical to Cup success. It was not to be. Team New Zealand lost the Cup to its former teammates at Alinghi, paving the way for Grant Dalton to take over the team.
He rebuilt and revitalised the team and as Emirates Team New Zealand won the challenger series for the Louis Vuitton Cup and raced Alinghi for the America’s Cup at Valencia in 2007.
The racing that followed has been described as the most thrilling ever; no one will forget Alinghi’s winning margin of just one second in the last race.