1851 – Way back then
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 oversized egos clashed head to head.
It is 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.
Until the Australians took the cup to Perth in 1983, anyone brave enough to suggest that little New Zealand could match the United States in sporting event dominated by technology and cash, would have been a laughing stock.
New Zealand 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?
Emirates Team New Zealand, challenging for the 35th America’s Cup, had its beginnings in the New Zealand Challenge team which contested the 1987 America’s Cup event, sailed at Fremantle, Western Australia.
It has missed only one event since – the 2010 Deed of Gift Challenge between Alinghi and Oracle at Valencia.
That makes it the longest-lived team in recent America’s Cup history. The team has won the Cup twice – at San Diego in 1995, beating Stars and Stripes 5-0 and at Auckland in 2000, beating Luna Rossa 5-0.
In 1995, few New Zealanders would have been unaware of the America’s Cup regatta in San Diego and the public watched live television 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 attitude, teamwork, taking on the big guy, accepting a challenge and striving for excellence.
1987 - Upstarts in plastic boats
With backing from merchant bankers Michael Fay and David Richwhite, the New Zealand Challenge made its debut for the 1987 Cup.
We built fibreglass 12-metre yachts, rather than using wood or aluminium. This upstart challenge rattled the opposition and America’s Cup veteran Dennis Conner, who had lost to Australia at 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 stopped (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 adds to the intrigue that surrounds the Old Mug. And this time New Zealand was centre stage.
1988 – The big boat challenge
Not content to wait the usual three or four-year Cup cycle, Sir Michael Fay issued a challenge to the San Diego Yacht Club, abandoning the established 12-metre class and returning 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 the boat upright.
For the first 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 yachts were born.
1992 – A skiff on steroids
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 NZL20 was dubbed a “skiff on steroids”. Skippered by Rod Davis, New Zealand rocketed through to the Louis Vuitton Challenger finals. But, controversy erupted again when their Italian Il Moro di Venezia rivals mounted a campaign against NZL20's bowsprit.
Then leading 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.
1995 – How to win the America’s Cup
Peter Blake 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 everyone from the home of the All Blacks could relate to – the boats were black.
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 securing the sponsorship to make it all possible.
Team New Zealand’s 1995 campaign has been widely described as a textbook study of how to go about winning sport's oldest and most elusive trophy.
New Zealanders sat glued to their television sets as Team New Zealand swept all before them at San Diego. With Russell Coutts at the helm, 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.
2000 – The magnificent defence
Back in Auckland, Peter 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’s vision transformed the Auckland waterfront into a Cup village The syndicates were concentrated in a single area like pits in a F1 Grand Prix and New Zealand staged a magnificent regatta in 2000.
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 and helping to grow a thriving boat building and services industry.
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.
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 won the right to challenge for the Cup. 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.
2003 - Disastrous defeat then the rebuild
Team New Zealand fell apart in the months that followed the successful 2000 defence. 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 join the Swiss 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.
The black boats were back on the Hauraki Gulf by the summer of 2000–01, beginning the extensive training and testing 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.
2007 – One-second delta ends a thriller
Grant Dalton and the management team set about rebuilding and revitalising the team from the ground up for the 2007 America’s Cup event in what was to become the last of the monohull America’s Cup regattas.
It would take place in 2007 at Valencia, Spain. A series of pre-regattas to be raced in the previous generation of IACC monohulls would be held at various venues in the two years before.
Renamed Emirates Team New Zealand, the new-look team emerged victorious in the pre-regattas won the Louis Vuitton Cup and faced off against Alinghi for the America’s Cup at Valencia in 2007.
New Zealanders, eager to support their team, flooded into Valencia. With NZ flages draped across their shoulders, they lined the canal as the yachts made their way from the harbour to the race course.
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.
2013 – Into the total unknown
Few who saw the 34th America’s Cup unfold – either in person or via television and the web - will ever forget the event raced at San Francisco in 2013.
Two 72ft catamarans with massive wing sails squared off. No one was quite sure of what would transpire.
There had been hints of what was about to happen. Some spectacular sailing had been seen on San Francisco Bay, with Emirates Team New Zealand leading the charge through the challenger elimination series.
Then on September 7, Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Team USA met at the start line. Another chapter in the 162-year history was about to be written.
The move to multihulls in the 2013 America’s Cup regatta had been widely signalled following the Oracle trimaran’s demolition of Alinghi’s catamaran in the 33rd America’s Cup in 2010.
Emirates Team New Zealand had to become masters of multihulls. The team decided to recruit a coach to help the sailing crew’s transition to multihulls. Heading the list was Australian Glenn Ashby, a successful international multihull racer in his own right, who had coached Oracle to victory in the 33rd America’s Cup – the mismatched Alinghi catamaran v. the Oracle tri.
A first attempt at the Extreme 40 circuit was not a regatta to remember for the result. Barker, Winston Macfarlane, Jeremy Lomas, James Dagg and Darren Bundock (an Australian providing the multihull expertise) were dead last at Almeria, Spain, the last regatta of the 2010 season.
They left Spain with a real understanding of multihull handling, manoeuvres and confined course racing and knowing what needed to be done. Above all there was confidence that they could make the transition.
The sailing team left monohulls behind at the conclusion of the Louis Vuitton Trophy series at Dubai in November 2010. They never raced a monohull again and quickly came to grips with catamarans – the 20ft A Class, the SL33s and the AC45. Alongside the competition and race training the SL33 testing programme was underway.
The hard work paid off in San Francisco in 2013. Barker and his crew blasted their way through the challengers’ elimination series, the Louis Vuitton Cup.
They started the America’s Cup match clearly superior, but Oracle was catching up fast in a boat designed to perform better in the reduced upper wind limit of 23 knots, mandated after the tragic Artemis capsize in training.
Oracle won the best of 17 regatta 9-8; a gutsy performance by Emirates Team New Zealand – an amazing comeback by Oracle. A spectacle never to be forgotten.