History of New Zealand in the America's Cup
This year is the 30th anniversary of one of the key moments in New Zealand's bid for the America's Cup.
It is three decades since the Australians - bless their green and gold hearts - wrested the trophy away from the Americans who had held it for 132 years.
The scenes of jubilation in Rhode Island as the John Bertrand-skippered Australia II came from behind in the final race to take the series 4-3 alerted New Zealanders - at least the non-yachting majority - that the America's Cup could be something worth having.
Here was an event of glamour and mystery. The Australians had just taken the trophy off the New York Yacht Club, which sounded flash and exclusive. They had done it with the backing of a high-profile businessman, Alan Bond, and to do it they had come up with a cunning plan - something called a winged keel, whatever that was.
Then there was the sight of thrilled Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, in one of his great man-of-the-people moments, saying on national television: "Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum."
It was a sport some of us were rather good at, anyway, and the next time the America's Cup would be up for grabs would be much closer to home in Perth in 1987.
The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron wanted to be involved, but as the deadline for entry approached it looked as if the cost might be too high.
Belgian-born Sydney-based businessman Marcel Fachler came out of nowhere to pay the $16,000 entry fee, but it was still touch-and-go until merchant banker Michael Fay decided to back the challenge.
Top designers Ron Holland, Laurie Davidson and Bruce Farr challenged tradition and built New Zealand's challenger, KZ7, of fibreglass.
Skipper Chris Dickson of the steely blue eyes won 37 out of 38 races in the Louis Vuitton challenger selection series, but then lost 4-1 to the San Diego Yacht Club entrant Stars and Stripes - skippered by Dennis Conner, the man who had lost the cup four years earlier.
That was probably when we realised Conner was going to be fun, as he growled about New Zealand's boat - dubbed the "plastic fantastic" - with the sour "if you want to build a glass boat, why would you do it, unless you wanted to cheat?"
Oh, the outrage!
Conner proceeded to dance all over the Australian Kookaburra III defence 4-0, becoming the first skipper to lose the America's Cup then win it back.
Fay then overplayed his hand, bringing in legal artillery to force San Diego to host a challenge in 1988.
The lawyers were everywhere.
New Zealand's entrant was the 90-foot (at the waterline) giant KZ1. It was easy meat for Conner who responded by building a smaller, faster catamaran.
He won. We were chumps. Enough about that.
Well, except that Conner kept the pot boiling, telling designer Farr he was "full of shit" and a "loser".
A year later that incident did wonders for broadcaster Sir Paul Holmes. On the first Holmes television show in 1989, Holmes asked Conner if he would apologise for the comments, and Conner walked out.
Fay, who became Sir Michael in 1990, had one more go at the cup in San Diego in 1992. The radically designed NZL20 had a complex keel and it flew some spinnakers from a permanent bowsprit.
New Zealand ended up contesting the challenger series final against the Italian Il Moro di Venezia campaign. At one stage we were 4-1 up, but the Italians launched a series of protests against our bowsprit. The jury agreed with them, took a point from New Zealand, and the Italians went on to win 5-3.
Round-the-world yacht racer Peter Blake then took over the New Zealand challenge, with Russell Coutts as his skipper. They swept over San Diego like a wave in 1995, and their boat NZL32, known as Black Magic, beat Conner 5-0.
Blake joined the crew on board the boat, wearing red socks given to him by his wife Pippa. Suddenly red socks were everywhere.
The series also gave commentator Peter Montgomery one of his greatest moments, as Black Magic crossed the finish line for the last time he exclaimed: "The America's Cup is now New Zealand's cup." It was not the only piece of memorable commentary from Montgomery during the event. As New Zealand and Australia competed in the round-robin stage of the challenger series it became apparent something was wrong with the One Australia boat.
"The boat is turning into a banana," an astounded Montgomery said.
Then a few minutes later: "This is yachting's answer to the Titanic. Look at it go down."
To their credit the Australians stayed in the competition, using another boat, losing the challenger series final to New Zealand.
When the cup arrived in Auckland, a throng estimated at more than 300,000 crammed into the downtown area for a victory parade.
Blake, who received a knighthood that year, thanked them for "this most stupendous, fantastic, terrific, marvellous New Zealand welcome".
Not everyone was impressed, with a Maori radical taking to the cup with a sledgehammer in March 1997 while it was on display at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron clubhouse.
The damaged cup was sent back to its makers, London's Gerrard & Co, for repairs which took three months.
For the challenge in 2000, the syndicates were grouped together in Auckland's Viaduct Basin, giving the event a great buzz.
Blake and Coutts led yachting's super team, which also included such great sailors as tactician Brad Butterworth. The New Zealand boat NZL60 swept aside the Italian challengers 5-0, with Coutts handing over the helm to a young Dean Barker for the final race.
New Zealand had become the first country outside the US to win and then defend the cup. It doesn't get any better - but it did go on to get quite a bit worse.
Sir Peter and other key members of the management team stepped aside, and there was uproar as Coutts and Butterworth left for the Swiss-based Alinghi syndicate.
The 2003 challenger series finals were a battle of the billionaires, as the Ernesto Bertarelli-backed Alinghi beat Larry Ellison's US Oracle team 5-1 on the Hauraki Gulf.
The cup races turned into a debacle for New Zealand and its boat NZL82. It retired in the first race due to multiple gear failure, and also retired in the fourth race after its mast snapped. Alinghi won 5-0.
Ocean sailor Grant Dalton was called in to right the New Zealand ship and the team was a much sounder proposition at the 2007 competition in Valencia, Spain.
The Barker-skippered NZL-92 beat Luna Rossa 5-0 in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger finals. It then lost the cup races 5-2 to the Butterworth-skippered Alinghi, with New Zealand just one second behind the Swiss boat in the seventh race.
New Zealand did not take part in the 2010 contest for the cup in Valencia, which followed extensive acrimonious litigation and featured just Alinghi and what was then BMW Oracle Racing, where Coutts was the chief executive.
Oracle, racing for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, won 2-0, and that's how we ended up in San Francisco this year.
- © Fairfax NZ News