They will live on in America's Cup folklore for different reasons - from their ingenuity in dragging the regatta into the 21st century and beyond, to the infamy of perceived "betrayal". Whatever their legacy, however, these six men have left an indelible mark on the battle for the Auld Mug, writes Michael Burgess.
Sir Russell Coutts
Coutts has cast a giant shadow over the event across the past three decades and it won't be quite the same this time around, with the 58-year-old merely an interested spectator from his home on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
"He has got a solid yachting addiction," says former Team New Zealand colleague Joey Allen when asked what makes Coutts so special. "He has had it his whole life.
"He's got an engineering background, which I think really helps in understanding the vessels.
"And he always surrounds himself with the best people; his knights, sitting at his round table, are the best."
Former Oracle director of external affairs Tom Ehman says Coutts was the key to their success, especially in 2013 in San Francisco.
"He's cool, calm, unflappable and always thinking," says Ehman. "He was never down, never despondent, always thinking.
"One of the reasons I think we lost in 2017 was because Russell was occupied running the event, and we had someone else running the team."
Coutts' America's Cup career began in 1992 with the New Zealand challenge.
Initially helming the reserve boat, he was given the top job for the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, which were disrupted by the bowsprit scandal, and eventually lost 5-3 to II Moro de Venezia.
Three years later in San Diego, Coutts was a central figure, alongside Sir Peter Blake.
He drove higher standards within the sailing team, culminating in a 37-1 record in the Louis Vuitton Cup, before an emphatic 5-0 sweep of Dennis Conner in the Cup match.
Coutts helmed the successful defence in 2000 (5-0 v Prada) before his infamous switch to Alinghi ahead of the next regatta.
It was highly controversial but Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli knew the recipe for success.
Coutts, along with Brad Butterworth and the rest of his 'tight five', sailed a brilliant campaign in 2003, outpointing eight other challengers (30 wins, four losses) before giving Team New Zealand no chance in the Cup match (5-0).
Across three regattas, Coutts was undefeated (14-0) in Cup matches, a record unlikely to ever be beaten.
His legacy was further enhanced when he moved into an off-the-water role.
He helped Oracle win the Cup in 2010, then was central to their rollercoaster defence in San Francisco in 2013, when they came back from a 8-1 deficit to break New Zealand hearts 9-8.
Dean Barker is a survivor.
He was the public face of arguably the two highest-profile losses in New Zealand's Cup history but never flinched from the spotlight.
Both those events, in 2003 in Auckland (versus Alinghi) and 2013 in San Francisco (against Oracle) took a massive personal toll, but didn't deter Barker from coming back for more.
The 2021 Cup in Auckland will be his sixth campaign, with his third team, as he helms the American Magic challenge of the New York Yacht Club, after heading up Softbank Team Japan in Bermuda in 2017.
Barker doesn't have the Cup-winning legacy he would have dreamed of when sailing a dinghy off Castor Bay as a kid and his detractors often associate his long Team New Zealand tenure with failure.
But that's not entirely accurate. He was the fall guy in 2003 on a boat that kept breaking and was impossible to sail at times.
He was then part of an epic campaign in 2007 in Valencia. Team New Zealand trumped all challengers in the Louis Vuitton Cup — including a sweep of Luna Rossa, helmed by Jimmy Spithill in the final.
"Everybody forgets that in Valencia, Dean beat Jimmy 5-0," says former Team New Zealand sailor Joey Allen. "He caned him. It was a great performance."
Barker pushed Alinghi in the Cup final, winning two of the first three races and losing the last by a second, despite the Swiss syndicate having a better all-round boat and a massive budget.
Then came San Francisco, where Barker came so close to a career-defining victory. There were myriad factors in Oracle's comeback from 8-1 down, but essentially they found considerable speed gains, and learned to sail the boat better, while Team New Zealand had maxed out their improvement curve too early, a lesson heeded in Bermuda.
What has been generally forgotten, however, was Barker's brilliance across that regatta, handling the most complex vessels the Cup has ever seen.
"Dean copped a lot of flak after San Francisco," says Allen. "But what he did throughout that entire campaign was unbelievable. He did 99 per cent of the steering, which needed incredible concentration and focus. He's got a different personality to someone like Jimmy [Spithill] but there is nothing between them in terms of talent."
His Cup career began in the late 1990s, when mentored by Coutts ahead of the 2000 regatta. Helming the B boat, Barker often pushed Coutts in internal races and played a vital role in helping NZL60 reach its peak. Given the wheel for the fifth race of the Cup final against Prada, the 26-year-old gave an assured display as Team New Zealand clinched the Cup.
Sir Peter Blake
Canvass the average Kiwi for their favourite Cup memory, and it's likely Blake, 1995 and his red socks will be in the mix.
For most New Zealanders of a certain age, that remains the quintessential memory.
Taking back the Cup in Bermuda was wonderful, as was defending it in 2000 in Auckland, while the incredible battle in San Francisco in 2013 is seared in the consciousness.
But nothing matches the feeling of winning the Auld Mug for the first time — and doing it in such style.
The country celebrated for days, with 250,000 people turning out for the victory parade down Queen Street.
And Blake was the architect of it all; the leader, the inspiration and the man who had the common touch.
He had made his name in gruelling Whitbread campaigns. Blake was the only individual to compete in the first five races and enjoyed a brilliant victory on Steinlager 2 in 1989, besting 23 yachts from 13 countries.
Blake's association with the America's Cup began in 1992, when he managed the New Zealand challenge which reached the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, before falling to Il Moro di Venezia amid the bowsprit controversy.
When Michael Fay stepped aside after that campaign, Blake took up the mantle. He helped build the original Team New Zealand syndicate and paid the US$75,000 entry fee out of his own pocket.
One of his masterstrokes was keeping the sailing team at the forefront of everything, particularly in the design of the boat, and everyone felt empowered.
Blake inspired great loyalty from his crew, and also had the Midas touch with corporate backers. His lucky red socks also entered folklore — with $500,000 raised for new sails, as hundreds of thousands of Kiwis brought specially-branded red socks.
NZL32 was untouchable during the regatta, despite having only the fifth-biggest budget, and swept the Cup finals 5-0 against Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes.
"The success in 1995 really goes back to the tone Peter Blake set right from the start," Russell Coutts told the Herald in 2015. "His philosophy was simple — the winning of it would be designing a better boat, building a better boat and then sailing it better. And that was the focus all the way along.
"[He said] up until now, we've been engaged in conflict with other teams, protests, rules disputes, but we're not going to do that this time. We're not going to be a legal-driven challenge any more."
Blake also oversaw the successful Cup defence in 2000, which was a wonderful event on and off the water, then stepped down to focus on other adventures.
He was tragically killed in Brazil on December 5, 2001.
For the best part of two decades, Dennis Conner was regarded as Mr America's Cup. Indeed, it's fair to say that for most of the 1980s and early '90s, he was one of the world's greatest sailors.
It's also fair to say he became one of the most controversial figures on these shores, earning the nickname 'Dirty Den' after a series of verbal jousts with the New Zealand challenges. He became Public Enemy No 1 but never seemed to mind. But for most Kiwis now, Conner should inspire (grudging) respect.
Nobody did more to put the Cup on the map than Conner and it's hard to imagine the event being anywhere near its current scale without the input of the San Diego native.
His finest moment came in 1987 in Fremantle. It was the biggest Louis Vuitton Cup field ever, with six challengers from the United States alone, while New Zealand's KZ7 was a rocket ship. But Conner bested New Zealand 4-1 in the final, then prevailed against the best-prepared defenders in Cup history, as four Australian syndicates had slugged it out, beating Kookaburra III 4-0.
His redemption — regaining the Cup after becoming the first American to lose it in 132 years — captured the imagination.
Conner's team were welcomed with a ticker tape parade in New York and he was invited to the White House by Ronald Reagan, while he featured on the cover of Time magazine and Sports Illustrated.
Conner was involved in nine Cup campaigns. His first was 1974, as part of the afterguard on successful Cup defender Courageous. In 1980, he skippered Freedom to a 4-1 victory over Australia, before the famous defeat at the hands of Australia II three years later.
The Fremantle campaign was memorable for his brilliant sailing, as well as several jibes at the New Zealand challenge.
"There have been 78 12- Metres built, all in aluminium," said Conner at one heated press conference, discussing KZ7 and its controversial fibreglass hull. "Why would you want to build one in glass ... unless you wanted to cheat?"
There were more clashes in 1988 during Michael Fay's ill-fated Big Boat challenge, when he called designer Bruce Farr a "loser" in a press conference and told him to get off the stage, later saying he had been "sailing a cat ... while someone else was sailing a dog".
Conner was edged out of the defender selection series in 1992, but was back in 1995 in San Diego, though no match for Black Magic in a 5-0 sweep.
He sailed in both Auckland editions (2000 and 2003), but struggled to match the financial might of other challengers, though he only missed the Louis Vuitton Cup final in 2000 due to a countback.
Conner also earned bronze at the 1976 Olympics in the Star class, led two Whitbread Round the World campaigns and won numerous world titles.
"Dennis was a wonderful leader," says Tom Ehman, who worked with him in the 1980s and 90s. "There are a lot of great sailors, but not all are great leaders. Dennis was both."
Although Grant Dalton was involved in New Zealand's first America's Cup challenge in 1987, on the backup boat, his first passion was ocean racing, and he became one of the best.
As a 24-year-old, he was part of a winning Whitbread Round the World race on Flyer II. He won the trophy for most outstanding skipper as Fisher and Paykel finished second in 1990, after an epic battle with Peter Blake's Steinlager 2, then helmed New Zealand Endeavour to an emphatic victory in 1994.
As well as his nautical skills, Dalton become a master of putting together campaigns, from building teams to attracting sponsors, dealing with stakeholders to negotiating with governments.
Those qualities led him to become more directly involved in Team New Zealand, after the debacle of the 2003 defence in Auckland. Dalton was seen as the man who could right the ship, then rebuild the foundations.
One of his greatest coups was getting Emirates on board as title sponsor in 2004, especially after being told by numerous people that the Gulf airline weren't interested in sailing and New Zealand was a tiny market.
But Dalton persisted, and his direct, passionate approach won the day.
He oversaw a strong campaign in Valencia in 2007 — when Team New Zealand were close to upsetting the might of Alinghi — before the unforgettable regatta in San Francisco.
The nature of the eventual defeat stung — with Oracle retrieving an 8-1 deficit — and some of Dalton's decisions there have been questioned, not least his call to be on the boat as a 57-year-old grinder.
But history has shown that Team New Zealand had a magnificent campaign against Larry Ellison's billions and were left to rue lady luck on several occasions.
And despite the massive setback, Dalton ensured his Cup legacy four years later with the triumph in Bermuda.
He revamped the team — making the tough call to drop Dean Barker — and gave his blessing to an audacious design approach, where Team New Zealand gambled with several innovations which paid off spectacularly.
Dalton can polarise people in the sailing fraternity but few question his work ethic, drive and ability to get results — on and off the water.
"Team New Zealand [is] so different to Oracle and the teams with rich benefactors, who can just turn on a tap if required," says Harold Bennett, who was principal race officer in every America's Cup regatta from 2000 to 2013. "Grant has a difficult balancing act to keep sponsors involved and keep a team running at full pace. He has done amazing things with that team. It's a far harder job than people think."
As much as it can be, Peter Burling's success seemed written in the stars.
The Tauranga-born sailor was a precocious talent, with some phenomenal achievements, and has never stopped improving. Unlike other Kiwi yachting prodigies, Burling has continued on an upward curve, rising to each new challenge with aplomb.
His feats in Bermuda in 2017 when he helmed Team New Zealand's stunning 7-1 demolition of Oracle — and faced down Jimmy Spithill in the process — means he is already a giant of the sport at the age of 29.
If Russell Coutts is our greatest yachtie, then Burling is his heir apparent.
"It's probably not a matter of if he'll be the No 1 sailor in the world, it's a matter of when," Coutts told the Herald in 2017.
Burling already has a fantastic resume, with Olympic gold and silver medals and
an unprecedented six-year unbeaten streak alongside Blair Tuke in the 49er class.
But what stands out is his love of the sport; Burling is a pure sailor and absolutely nuts about the sport.
"Peter Burling — he wins the America's Cup in Bermuda, then a month later, he jumps on a Round the World boat," says former Team New Zealand veteran Joey Allen. "What does that say to you? It says to me these guys are the real deal.
"There are not many guys who would do that. You get on for the start of an ocean race leg ... that's very, very difficult. Mentally, physically you will be pushed to your limits. It's brutal. That tells you everything you need to know about him and Blair [Tuke]."
Burling turned heads from an early age. He was second in the Optimist nationals (under-16 class) as an 11-year-old.
At 15, he was named New Zealand Young Sailor of the Year, after winning the 420 world championships with Carl Evans in 2006. Two years later, he was at the Beijing Olympics, the Tauranga Boys' College student becoming New Zealand's youngest Olympic sailor as he competed in the 470 class, before his medal-winning efforts with Tuke in London and Rio.
He was involved with Team Korea's White Tiger challenge in the America's Cup World Series during 2011-13 before coming to prominence in the inaugural Youth America's Cup in San Francisco, helming the New Zealand team to victory.
Burling was a popular choice to take over from Dean Barker ahead of Bermuda and that proved a wise decision. He handled the occasion superbly and eventually had Spithill squirming — on and off the water — as Burling seemed imperious to pressure.
When he made mistakes, he learnt quickly. Burling led Team New Zealand to a 5-2 win over Artemis in the Louis Vuitton final, before the comprehensive victory over Oracle in the Cup regatta, with his audacious pre-start manoeuvre in the eighth race, which left the American boat floundering, epitomising his confidence, belief and skill.
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Be aware that traffic will be busy, and parking will be very limited.
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus instead.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It's the best way to ride to the Cup.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.