NEW ZEALAND AND THE 1987 AMER­ICA’S CUP PART 2 - PERTH So close

With her GRP con­struc­tion, KZ7 ruffled a few feathers among the rac­ing elite. But she nearly pre­vailed in pulling off the im­pos­si­ble.

Boating NZ - - Reflections -

Prior to ship­ping KZ3 and KZ5 to Perth, syn­di­cate head Michael Fay had been busy ar­rang­ing the crit­i­cal area of spon­sor­ship. The Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) be­came nam­ing spon­sor, with sup­ple­men­tary spon­sor­ship from Epi­glass, Jeb­son Line, Motor Hold­ings Subaru and the Lion Cor­po­ra­tion.

Crew se­lec­tion was an­other vi­tal com­po­nent, and with the BNZ Chal­lenge now com­mit­ted to two boats, 22 rac­ing crew plus back­ups were re­quired. A com­mit­tee of Roy Dick­son, Ralph Roberts and Bret de Thier was set up to iden­tify suit­able crew.

While there were nu­mer­ous New Zealand sailors with off­shore, IOR and dinghy rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, none had any ex­pe­ri­ence rac­ing 12m yachts.

The com­mit­tee se­lected 23-year old Chris Dick­son and 40year old Graeme Woodroffe as the two potential skip­pers. While the younger Dick­son was then the lead­ing New Zealand matchrace skip­per, the more ex­pe­ri­enced Woodroffe had been one of the premier IOR skip­pers over the past decade.

The re­main­der of the crew brought a mix­ture of keel­boat and dinghy rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and in­cluded Joe Allen, Rus­sell Coutts, Si­mon Daub­ney, Warwick Fleury, Rob Salt­house and Erle Wil­liams.

Peter Bate­man, Peter De­bre­ceny and Peter Mander had al­ready set up the shore fa­cil­i­ties and ac­com­mo­da­tion when KZ3 and KZ5 ar­rived in Perth, Jan­uary 13, 1986. The two yachts had their first com­pet­i­tive out­ing at an in­vi­ta­tion race on Jan­uary 26, where, de­spite equip­ment is­sues, KZ5 and KZ3 fin­ished fourth and fifth re­spec­tively out of 13. On the sec­ond in­vi­ta­tion

race on Fe­bru­ary 5, KZ5 and KZ3 fin­ished third and fourth, a promis­ing start for a first-time cam­paign.

A fleet of 12 boats from nine syn­di­cates of both de­fend­ers and chal­lengers lined up for the start of the world se­ries on Fe­bru­ary 7. Dick­son at the helm of KZ5 had a fly­ing start, while Woodroff in KZ3 was caught in the pack. KZ5 led the fleet to the top mark and went on to a com­fort­able win, an amaz­ing ef­fort.

De­spite this ini­tial suc­cess, the seven-race se­ries be­came a hard bat­tle for the Ki­wis. Be­sides the in­evitable mis­takes as­so­ci­ated with learn­ing to race 12m yachts in bois­ter­ous con­di­tions, both KZ3 and KZ5 suf­fered equip­ment and mast is­sues.

None­the­less, KZ5 fin­ished the se­ries in sec­ond place be­hind the vastly ex­pe­ri­enced Aus­tralia III team, a massive vin­di­ca­tion of the skill of the New Zealand de­sign­ers.

But the se­ries re­vealed short­com­ings in boat and shore crew and a num­ber were dropped. For­tu­nately, the Lion New Zealand and NZI En­ter­prise Whit­bread cam­paigns had just fin­ished and sev­eral of their crew, in­clud­ing Grant Dal­ton, Ed Danby, Mike Quil­ter, Bob Gra­ham, Tony Rae, Kevin Shoe­bridge, Grant Span­hake and An­drew Tay­lor, joined the BNZ Chal­lenge.

Dick­son, whose in­ten­sity and com­pet­i­tive­ness had po­larised some crew, had made er­rors and Fay sent him back to Auck­land for a se­ries of ses­sions with a sports psy­chol­o­gist.

Ad­di­tional skills were re­cruited from out­side, in­clud­ing French­man Lau­rent Esquier as sail­ing di­rec­tor and English­man Peter Wil­son as shore boss. Roy Dick­son, who’d sailed part of the re­gatta as KZ5’S tac­ti­cian, was paired up with Esquier to man­age the sail­ing team.

Mean­time the three New Zealand de­sign­ers fi­nalised plans for the third boat, KZ7. The hull lines were tweaked, the GRP con­struc­tion was re­fined and the winged keel was a sig­nif­i­cant step-up in per­for­mance over those on KZ3 and KZ5. Dame Naomi

James launched KZ7, or Kiwi Magic as she be­came known, on July 26, 1986 and the yacht was im­me­di­ately shipped to Perth.

By now the BNZ Chal­lenge had no­tice­ably ramped up in in­ten­sity. Two mini match-race se­ries held over July and Au­gust helped iden­tify KZ7’S fi­nal crew, which be­came Dick­son, But­ter­worth, Quil­ter, Rae, Daub­ney, Shoe­bridge, Brian Phillimore, Tay­lor, Danby, Jeremy Scantle­bury and Wil­liams.

Woodroff, ini­tially named re­serve skip­per, was later dropped in favour of David Barnes, while Dal­ton was named re­serve grinder/pit/mast.

With the crew set­tled, KZ7 was worked up against KZ5 and by the time the Louis Vuit­ton Cup be­gan on Oc­to­ber 5, the yacht was look­ing highly com­pet­i­tive.

In race one KZ7 beat the Buddy Melges-helmed Heart of Amer­ica by over six minutes, setting the tone for the fol­low­ing two weeks. KZ7 didn’t meet up with Den­nis Con­ner’s Stars & Stripes un­til Oc­to­ber 17, well af­ter Con­ner’s syn­di­cate, Sail Amer­ica Foun­da­tion (SAF), had of­fi­cially queried the le­gal­ity of KZ7’S GRP con­struc­tion.

SAF at­tempted to per­suade the other chal­lengers to re­quire all 12m yachts be re­mea­sured to en­sure com­pli­ance, with all com­pos­ite 12m yachts, i.e. solely KZ7, be­ing core-sam­pled. But SAF failed to gain a ma­jor­ity and the mo­tion was de­feated.

In the mid­dle of the le­gal shenani­gans, KZ7 raced Stars & Stripes for the first time and, af­ter a close bat­tle, suf­fered her first de­feat. Tellingly, while KZ7 seemed a frac­tion quicker, Con­ner’s con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence at rac­ing 12m yachts proved enough to win.

But this was KZ7’S only de­feat and she fin­ished the round in equal first place with Amer­ica II and Stars & Stripes. The Coura­geous syn­di­cate re­tired so it was down to 12 chal­lengers for the sec­ond round-robin.

KZ7 dom­i­nated this round win­ning each of her 11 races,

with Amer­ica II, Stars & Stripes and French Kiss mak­ing up the other top four syn­di­cates.

Round-robin three was equally KZ7’S round and she fin­ished the three round-robins with 198 points out of a pos­si­ble 199. KZ7’S dom­i­nance on the water was ob­vi­ously gen­er­at­ing re­sent­ment off it when at a press con­fer­ence Con­ner made his in­fa­mous re­mark: “Why would you do it [build a GRP boat] un­less you wanted to cheat?”

But Fay was well-pre­pared and, backed by Lloyds, the is­sue of KZ7’S com­pli­ance was again de­feated.

The semi-fi­nals be­gan De­cem­ber 28, with KZ7 rac­ing against the fourth-placed French Kiss, and Stars & Stripes against USA. Pre­vi­ous wins meant noth­ing; it would be win­ner take all from here on.

It was all over by Jan­uary 2, 1987; KZ7 had romped over French Kiss four-nil, while Stars & Stripes had done the same to USA. The Louis Vuit­ton fi­nal would be de­cided be­tween the brash new­comer, KZ7, and the vastly-ex­pe­ri­enced Stars & Stripes.

The Stars & Stripes syn­di­cate spent the next 11 days mak­ing small but telling im­prove­ments to op­ti­mise its yacht for stronger breezes. But with 37 wins from 38 starts, the BNZ Chal­lenge team was re­luc­tant to make any­thing other than mi­nor im­prove­ments to KZ7.

Race one of the seven-race se­ries started Jan­uary 13 with 20-plus knots of breeze. It was a close race but it seemed Stars & Stripes had a speed ad­van­tage in those con­di­tions and beat KZ7 by 1m 20s. The next day the same thing hap­pened with Stars & Stripes win­ning by 1m 36 sec. Shocked at two con­sec­u­tive de­feats, the BNZ Chal­lenge called a lay day to re­group.

Race three and Stars & Stripes was lead­ing when she blew a spin­naker hal­yard al­low­ing KZ7 to get in front. De­spite Stars & Stripes in­sti­tut­ing a fu­ri­ous tack­ing duel, KZ7 re­mained in front to win by 38 sec­onds.

KZ7 dom­i­nated this round win­ning each of her 11 races, with Amer­ica II, Stars & Stripes and French Kiss mak­ing up the other top four syn­di­cates.

Race four and the breeze was up near the max­i­mum al­low­able 26 knots. Stars & Stripes got to the top mark first with KZ7 close be­hind, but on the run KZ7 crash-gybed tear­ing out her back­stay and with it the mast­head crane. With KZ7’S mast and main­sail de­te­ri­o­rat­ing through­out the re­main­der of the race, Stars & Stripes eas­ily won by 3m 38s. With the score now three-one Stars & Stripes was on match point.

With the BNZ Chal­lenge be­gin­ning to un­ravel, Fay called an­other lay day. While the shore crew fit­ted a spare mast and re­paired the other dam­age, Fay re­buffed pres­sure from cer­tain quar­ters to re­place Dick­son with Barnes and tried to set­tle the now rat­tled af­ter­guard.

Jan­uary 19 and the breeze was again in ex­cess of 20 knots. With her re­place­ment mast KZ7 wasn’t look­ing com­fort­able and Stars & Stripes led to the first mark. KZ7 made up most of the deficit on the run, then on the reach­ing legs used a gen­naker to close right up but with­out be­ing able to pass.

Stars & Stripes held KZ7 out on the next up­wind leg, but on the last run KZ7 surfed right up to Stars & Stripes tran­som to an ex­cel­lent po­si­tion to at­tack on the last beat. But KZ7 touched the last mark and had to re-round, al­low­ing Stars & Stripes to sail away to win by 1m 29s.

The dream was over, the BNZ Chal­lenge team in Perth and their hun­dreds of thou­sands of sup­port­ers back in New Zealand were left shat­tered.

Just how close the BNZ Chal­lenge had come to win­ning the Amer­ica’s Cup was re­vealed on Fe­bru­ary 4, when Stars & Stripes won her fourth straight race against Kook­aburra III to take the Cup off to its new home, San Diego. As it turned out, the Aus­tralian de­fender had been off the pace, so who­ever won the Louis Vuit­ton Cup would likely have won the Amer­ica’s Cup.

The BNZ Chal­lenge team ar­rived back in Auck­land on Fe­bru­ary 16 to a rap­tur­ous wel­come. An es­ti­mated crowd of 250,000 wel­comed the team with a ticker-tape pa­rade down Queen Street. Wel­comes were also laid on in Welling­ton, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Be­sides gal­vanis­ing the whole coun­try, the BNZ Chal­lenge had achieved so much. Un­til 1987 it had been gen­er­ally ac­cepted

Amer­ica’s Cup chal­lengers needed mul­ti­ple at­tempts to gain enough ex­pe­ri­ence to win the Cup. The Aus­tralians won it on their fourth at­tempt, while the Bri­tish – 166 years and count­ing – are still try­ing.

Un­ques­tion­ably KZ7 was the best all-round 12m yacht in Perth that sum­mer and, de­spite the lack of time, money and ex­pe­ri­ence, the BNZ Chal­lenge came ag­o­nis­ingly close to win­ning the Amer­ica’s Cup at its first at­tempt.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

The short an­swer is, not much. To a de­gree, the BNZ Chal­lenge team be­came vic­tims of their own suc­cess. With

KZ7’S dom­i­nance through the round-robins and into the fi­nals – 37 wins from 38 starts – run­ning into the vast­ly­ex­pe­ri­enced Con­ner, at the top of his game and Stars &

Stripes op­ti­mised pre­cisely to the race con­di­tions, gave the BNZ Chal­lenge team a bloody nose they weren’t equipped to han­dle at­ti­tu­di­nally.

When the pres­sure came on and KZ7 was fac­ing elim­i­na­tion, cracks ap­peared in the crew’s per­for­mance – not many, but enough. Lack­ing Amer­ica’s Cup ex­pe­ri­ence, man­age­ment couldn’t bridge the gap.

But a more telling rea­son for the loss went back many months to man­age­ment’s de­ci­sion not to re­tain the de­sign team in Perth dur­ing the round robins. The three prin­ci­pal de­sign­ers, Davidson, Farr and Hol­land, have con­firmed to this writer, had they had been re­tained in Perth dur­ing that time, they could have hugely im­proved KZ7’S per­for­mance.

While Fay did fly Farr out to Perth just prior to the fi­nals, his ad­vice to mode KZ7 dif­fer­ently to im­prove her heavy weather per­for­mance wasn’t taken as the crew didn’t want to change a win­ning for­mula. This in­cluded KZ7’S sails, which proved too full and pow­er­ful for the con­di­tions.

The fi­nal rea­son came down to the rub of the green. In less than 15 knots of breeze KZ7 had it all over Stars & Stripes, be­tween 15 and 20 knots there was lit­tle in it, while over 20 knots Stars & Stripes had the edge. The Louis Vuit­ton fi­nals were all sailed in winds be­tween 18 and 28 knots, with an av­er­age of 23 knots. Iron­i­cally, the breeze died the night KZ7 was de­feated and didn’t re­turn.

Ac­cord­ing to the BNZ Chal­lenge weath­er­man Bob Mc­davitt, dur­ing the pre­vi­ous 13 years, on only one oc­ca­sion had the 3.00pm wind speed ex­ceeded 20 knots on three suc­ces­sive Jan­uary af­ter­noons. Sta­tis­ti­cally, it should have hap­pened only once every 36 years. It had been a close-run thing, but no ci­gar. Fay would head up two more New Zealand Amer­ica’s Cup cam­paigns, the KZ1 big boat chal­lenge of 1988 and the first of the new for­mat IACC boats of 1992 with NZL20. Both cam­paigns fea­tured the in­no­va­tive de­sign, flashes of bril­liance and con­tro­versy that have char­ac­terised New Zealand’s Amer­ica’s Cup cam­paigns, but they are sto­ries for other days.

LEFT KZ7 lead­ing Stars & Stripes un­der spin­nakers.

ABOVE

KZ7’S crew; (back L to R) Chris Dick­son, Tony Rae, Mike Quil­ter, (mid L to R) Erle Wil­liams, Kevin Shoe­bridge, An­drew Tay­lor, Brian Phillimore, (front L to R) Brad But­ter­worth (red hat) Si­mon Daub­ney, Ed Danby, Jeremy Scantle­bury.

ABOVE KZ5 fin­ished sec­ond in the 12m fleet World Se­ries prior to the start of the Amer­ica’s Cup Chal­lenger se­ries.

TOP LEFT Press con­fer­ence af­ter Race 4; star­ing de­feat in the face (L to R) Fay, Dick­son, But­ter­worth and Wil­liams.

CEN­TRE LEFT The twins, KZ3 and KZ5 be­ing shipped to Perth. LEFT KZ7 pow­er­ing up­wind into a breeze. BOT­TOM RIGHT Den­nis Con­ner, ex­pe­ri­enced, canny and ul­ti­mately vic­to­ri­ous.

TOP RIGHT Chris Dick­son and Michael Fay at the ticker tape pa­rade in Auck­land.

RIGHT KZ7 punch­ing up­wind into a typ­i­cally bois­ter­ous Free­man­tle sea­way.

TOP LEFT KZ5 crew af­ter win­ning race 1 of the World Se­ries, one of the yacht’s first com­pet­i­tive races.

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