9. THE KIWIS

1995 would be the year of the Kiwi. Led by the fierce determination of Sir Peter Blake and with the steady hand of Russell Coutts on the wheel, New Zealand’s Black Magic dominated the challengers in San Diego, and went on to make short work of the Dennis Conner / Paul Cayard defense partnership, taking the America’s Cup back to the Southern Hemisphere.

Sir Peter Blake’s crew declared there would be no defender selection series, and Team New Zealand focused on in-house training, taking advantage of a deep pool of young talent to push Coutts to the limit in training.

At the same time, the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2000 featured what has been described as perhaps the best two weeks of racing in the history of the America’s Cup. Italy’s Prada Challenge outlasted Paul Cayard’s AmericaOne, winning the best of nine series 5-4. Not only was the series close, but many of the races were sailed with the boats just metres apart, the lead changing hands over and over again.

But Prada’s Luna Rossa, although battle-hardened, was no match for Team New Zealand. Skipper Russell Coutts staked the Kiwis to a quick 4-0 lead – equaling the record for most consecutive America’s Cup wins set by Charlie Barr 100 years earlier – before handing the wheel to understudy Dean Barker who promptly became the youngest skipper at 26-years old to win the America’s Cup. Team New Zealand looked to be so far ahead of the challengers that the America’s Cup appeared to be secure in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron for a long time to come.

But shortly after the win, Russell Coutts and many of his Team New Zealand stalwarts announced they were leaving to join a new team that had to be built from the ground up for Swiss Bio-Tech entrepreneur Ernesto Bertarelli.

Within months, in a scene reminiscent of an earlier era, many of the world’s most successful men announced they were coming to stake their claim on the Cup. Backed by Patrizio Bertelli of the Prada fashion house, the Italians would be back, as would three strong American challenges, including teams backed by Oracle software guru Larry Ellison, and a Pacific Northwest team led by Craig McCaw and Paul Allen. Joining them were teams from France, Italy, Sweden, and for the first time in 16 years, Great Britain, making another run at regaining that which they lost 151 years earlier.

After four months of Round Robin and elimination rounds, the Louis Vuitton Cup Challenger Series came down to a nine-race Final between Ernesto Bertarelli’s Team Alinghi and Larry Ellison’s BMW ORACLE Racing team. Both teams arrived at the Finals with impressive records in the previous rounds, and the racing showed these two teams were evenly matched. Although the record was a 5-1 series win for Alinghi, the numbers belied how close the racing actually was.

The battle to the win the Louis Vuitton Cup created a very strong Challenger, and set up a much-anticipated America’s Cup Match between Coutts and his old Team New Zealand understudy Dean Barker. Unfortunately for the Kiwis, Team New Zealand appeared ill prepared, and was no match for Alinghi. Serious equipment problems and some poor race tactics allowed Alinghi to sweep the Match 5-0, and take the America’s Cup to Europe for the first time.