John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

NZ memories: Black Magic wins the America's Cup

150 years of memories: In 1995 we knew success.

Sir Peter Blake heads the 1995 America's Cup victory parade through Auckland. Photo / File
Sir Peter Blake heads the 1995 America's Cup victory parade through Auckland. Photo / File

"Unbelievable" was all anyone could say.

Team captain Peter Blake said it. Skipper Russell Coutts said it. So did tactician Brad Butterworth and all the crew, all of them by then household names. "Unbelievable".

For over 130 years it had been unbelievable that any challenger could wrest the America's Cup from the New York Yacht Club. Way back in the mists of time a yacht called America had won a race against British sailors and for a century the British came back regularly to fail.

The contest, sailed every four years off Newport, Rhode Island, had acquired a mystique of its own. Nothing else in yachting and not much else in sport was as grand.

Then in 1983 an Australian business mogul, Alan Bond, muscled in. He broke the Anglo-American tradition, challenged for the cup and, unbelievably, won. When he brought the Cup back to Fremantle it became not quite so unbelievable for a few dreamers in Auckland.

Former National cabinet minister Aussie Malcolm deserves the credit for first putting the idea around. Merchant banker Michael Fay picked it up. By then it was 1985. New Zealand was rapidly opening up its economy to unbridled market forces. Anything seemed possible.

In October, just a year before the start of the regatta to decide who could challenge Australia at Fremantle, Fay's syndicate launched a 12-metre hull made of glass-reinforced plastic, a world first.

The next summer, KZ7, the "plastic fantastic" skippered by Chris Dickson, captivated the country, beating all-comers in the challenger rounds until the final series against America's veteran, Dennis Conner.

Conner beat the upstart, went on to beat the cup holder and took the trophy to his home port, San Diego, California.

Team New Zealand set its sights on San Diego but success would not come easily. At the next challenge, in 1991, the economy was in recession. The 'KZ7 summer', when the stock market had been soaring with hope, seemed naive in retrospect.

Sir Michael Fay, his bank associated with state asset sales and his America's Cup plans pushing the envelope of what was permitted, fell short again.

For the next challenge the baton was handed to Peter Blake, a celebrated deep-ocean sailor, not a match-racer.

Blake's round-the-world races had made him an inspiring leader of yachtsmen and a national hero. Aucklanders lined the cliffs of the Waitemata when he lead racing fleets home.

Blake had a personal motto: If it wasn't hard it wouldn't be worth doing.

He took charge of Team New Zealand on-shore and took his place in the crew on the water, leaving the helming to Coutts and Butterworth.

Quietly confident, without the hullabaloo of previous preparations, they went to San Diego again. Early victories were not celebrated. They kept their focus, and New Zealand's, on the hard work required.

The whole country held its breath as it realised this time the black boat really was "a rocket ship". Not a cork was popped until Black Magic crossed the final finish line.

Then, well, unbelievable.

What are your memories of the 1995 America's Cup victory? Leave your comments below

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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