It was May 1995. School was out for the holidays and a nations pride was swelling: New Zealand was about take on Dennis Conner’s Americans for the right to hold aloft the America’s Cup.
At that time only once before had it left American waters, when Australia successfully challenged for it in 1983. 12 years later, off the coast of San Diego, leading 4-0, the hopes, the pride of 3.5 million New Zealanders rested on the men sailing a boat appropriately called Black Magic for its colour. But also for the fact that all too often for the American’s the last thing their skipper Dennis Conner would see of it is the boat crossing the finish line some distance ahead of him.
So it was no small event for New Zealand to grab the America’s Cup in 1995. Huge parade’s were held in Auckland (population 1.0 million; 350,000 turned out), Wellington (population 380,000; 100,000 turned out), Christchurch (population 325,000; 140,000 turned out)to welcome them home. The man who engineered it, Peter Blake, earned himself a knighthood. Skipper Russell Coutts was a hometown hero in Dunedin. Several others were awarded significant honours in the Queens Birthday and New Years honours lists.
5 years later, Team New Zealand sucessfully defended the America’s Cup in Auckland, becoming only the first nation outside of the U.S. to win it and defend it. Again large crowds turned out across the country, now approaching 4.0 million people, to see the victors. On the day of the final race, instead of having Mr Coutts skipper the New Zealand boat, a young sailor named Dean Barker was given the wheel.
And then we lost it. For reasons I cannot remember, the next defence was brought forward and held in 2003. By that point, several ex-members of Team New Zealand including the skipper Russell Coutts, and tactician had jump overboard and found their way to Swiss Challenger Alinghi. It was a disaster. The boat mast snapped in a race we could not afford to lose and Alinghi seized their chances.
The next several years up to the 2007 challenge against Alinghi, off the coast of Portugal, because Switzerland is landlocked, was marred by court battles. New Zealand was led by Dean Barker again. The first perceptions of it being a race for rich men to play with their toys began to grow. I still wanted to maintain the faith, but New Zealand lost again and the acrimony began to turn people off.
Thus it was almost with complete disinterest on my part that 2013 saw in a new bid to win the America’s Cup back. It was in San Francisco. And I admittedly would probably have paid no attention whatsoever if it hadn’t been for a combination of having started a job at a rental car company where in the course of taking up or bringing cars back from the airport, the radio would be on and almost invariably tuned to hear coverage. It was against Oracle, a team headed by an American named Jimmy Spithill. New Zealand was led once again by Dean Barker T.N.Z. lost again, but it was a close race helped to foster interest that would not have existed.
But the acrimony returned. Mr Barker left for a Japanese syndicate. More court battles and a continuing controversy over funding when other perhaps more deserving sports got nothing at all seemed to have damaged the reputation permanently. And thus perhaps this more than anything else contributed to my such complete inattention that I didn’t even know we had made the final until I just saw something in the media one day a couple of weeks ago that T.N.Z. – now funded by Emirates – had mad the final and would challenge Jimmy Spithill’s Oracle for the Auld Mug.
I have to say honestly that I regret not paying any attention at all to the races until Monday 26 June when it was announced New Zealand was just one win away from winning the America’s Cup. Perhaps it was because it was at this point in the previous campaign we choked completely and the Oracle syndicate went on to win. Perhaps it was because with so many other things going on in the world and New Zealand I simply did not pay enough attention.
Whatever the case, I am sorry. You guys deserved my attention more than I actually gave. You undid the years of controversy that sullied the America’s Cup. You made a thing to be proud of again.