There have been few - possibly no other - sporting wins that captured the nation quite like the 1995 America's Cup.
Kiwis sat glued to their television sets as Russell Coutts and Team New Zealand swept all before them in the challenger series, before Black Magic rocketed to ultimate glory over Dennis Conner, often cast as a dastardly figure, and his Stars and Stripes team.
Even back then the America's Cup had sometimes seemed in danger of being sunk by the controversy and antics of those who want to hold it by dubious schemes. But the romance of the trophy remained, whatever perfidy and arrogance from the defenders, and, sometimes, challengers. By winning it New Zealand were transported from their narrow sporting stage to the great halls of worldly endeavour.
It was only about 10 years before that an America's Cup challenge looked completely beyond New Zealand's reach financially, technically and experience-wise.
But when Australia became the first nation to successfully challenge for the America's Cup in 1983, there was sudden belief we could do it as well. After all, tell any Kiwi Australia has done something and we'll immediately set about trying to outdo them. And thus came the KZ7 challenge in Fremantle.
While they were well-beaten by Conner in 1987, they learnt a lot of lessons from the campaign, which were further extended upon in the 1992 challenge in San Diego.
A lot of other things changed in those 10 years as well. Coutts and Chris Dickson won world match-racing titles, while New Zealand became a strong presence in the Whitbread round the world yacht race, gaining further experience sailing big, powerful boats.
In 1995 all the stars aligned for Team New Zealand - they had an inspirational leader in Peter Blake, a rock-star crew led by Coutts and a savvy design team.
Team New Zealand vs Dennis Conner and Young America off San Diego. Photo / David White
Tomorrow marks the 20 years since that remarkable day when New Zealand clinched the America's Cup for the first time, spawning Peter Montgomery's famous line "the America's Cup is now New Zealand's Cup". Much has happened over the past two decades since - the successful defence in 2000, the break-up of the syndicate following the defection of Coutts, Brad Butterworth and the core of the sailing team, the subsequent rebuild and the heartbreak of Valencia and San Francisco.
But in 1995 Team New Zealand were the toast of the sailing universe.
Today we begin a two-part series in which the crew and those close to the campaign relive their memories of that time.
- Edited by Dana Johannsen/interviews by Dana Johannsen and Alex Robertson.
CONTENT - PART I:
Russell Coutts (skipper/helmsman):
The success in 1995 really goes back to the tone Peter Blake set right from the start. 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.
Peter Montgomery (veteran yachting commentator):
It actually took a lot of arm-twisting for Peter Blake to be involved because he really was quite disillusioned after 1992. I have a recording of Blake saying "if that's the America's Cup you can stick it". He'd been brought in too late and that structure hadn't been set up the way he did campaigns and it wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience for him.
Suzanne McFadden (NZ Herald yachting reporter 1993-2001)
: Alan Sefton, who had been Blake's right-hand man through his Whitbread campaigns, convinced him to put 1992 behind him and enter the next America's Cup. Blake had to pay the $US75,000 entry fee out of his personal savings - actually, he had to ring [his wife] Pippa from somewhere in the Atlantic and get her to visit the bank manager. And then Blake had to put together a team from scratch - sailors, designers, sponsors - which was a pretty big ask, but there was this real confidence that he was the man to do the job.
Tom Schnackenberg (designer/navigator):
I was part of a small group trying to get the thing going. I was doing it on a best intentions basis because I had an offer from an Australian team. One of the first things we did was a meeting at the squadron with 25 or so yachties - the only people missing were the potential helmsmen: Russell [Coutts], Chris Dickson and Rod Davis. We decided Russell would be the best person.
A lot of the early time we spent just trying to figure out what had gone wrong and what had gone right in the past and what were the winning factors in the previous campaign. So we probably spent two or three months just talking to people and thinking about that before we made too many moves.
It wasn't just the big names like Coutts and Butterworth that were key - to perform well they needed very good crew. The whole Citizen Match Racing series that was run through the RNZYS through the 80s and 90s spawned so many good sailors, who became very skilled in the art of match racing.
Joe Allen (bowman):
All of those guys we'd beaten the hell out of each other in our teenage years. We'd all crossed swords with one another at some point in time. My association with Russell was pretty frosty to be honest, and I was quite surprised and humbled to be asked to sail with him. Looking back it just shows he knew who he needed to get the Cup won and he put a lot of ill-feeling aside. His crew selection at that point in time was unbelievable. I remember thinking "shit they're going to have to be good to beat us".
Jeremy Scantlebury (grinder/boat captain):
We certainly had the best match-racing skipper at the time, and we had a very, very smart afterguard with Brad Butterworth, Murray Jones, Richard Dodson. If you matched everyone up against any of the opposition, we were superior right throughout the boat.
On the strength of [the experience in the team], Coutts was in a meeting with the designers and he said "you give us a boat that is equal, and we'll win".
We actually got more than what I think any of us ever envisaged - the boat turned out to be absolutely fantastic.
1995 Team New Zealand crew
Russell Coutts - skipper/helmsman
Brad Butterworth - afterguard
Tom Schnackenberg - afterguard
Murray Jones - afterguard
Rick Dodson - afterguard
Warwick Fleury - mainsheet trimmer
Peter Blake - mainsheet traveller
Simon Daubney - trimmer
Robbie Naismith - trimmer
Ross Halcrow - trimmer
Andrew Taylor - grinder
Craig Monk - grinder
Matthew Mason - pit
Jeremy Scantlebury - mast
Joe Allen - midbow
Dean Phipps - bow
The unveiling of NZL 32's keel at the Team New Zealand compund at San Diego. Photo / David White
One thing Blake insisted on was to set up a sailor-driven campaign, working closely with the designers, the sail makers and spar makers. While that sounds simple, in a sport where the designers are often viewed as the gods, it wasn't the standard approach. So much of the innovation and ideas came from the sailing team. The sailors actually have a few clues, but they'd never been asked. This time they were involved and that empowered them.
The designers still had an enormous impact on the final result, but it was just a more collaborative process where they had to present their ideas and so forth and we really debated the ideas such as the mast design.
Craig Monk (grinder):
We built a full-size mock-up in an office in Shortland St. That's the whole deck layout and all the crew got involved and that was pretty much how we set up the boat. At the time it was quite innovative. It was quite good to have the guys standing around saying we want that winch there and in the match racing we want the trimmers closer together, the helmsman further up the boat.
Murray Jones (tactician):
It was a very constructive decision-making process. We'd make decisions and everyone would leave the meeting completely happy with the decision and we'd move on to the next thing. There was no second-guessing, we'd move on and focus 100 per cent on the next thing on the agenda.
We were a little bit late launching. We waited at least 10-12 days because we got smashed by a really bad front of heavy weather that whole time. That was September of 94. It had to go on a ship in November or just before Christmas or something like that.
We were one of the last teams to launch, but we were pretty confident with the design decisions we had made.
When we launched 32 we had [NZL-20 from the 1992 campaign] there immediately to line up with. The old saying, if it's fast out of the box, or fast from brand new, then it's going to be a great boat. And that first day, there were lots of smiles and the boat proved to be very fast from day one.
We had an issue at that point because we had to disguise the boat. We had to do an anti-PR campaign that the boat was actually slow. We didn't want to put the spotlight on ourselves.
Oh they were buggers. They started spreading rumours that the boat was disappointing. I know that was Coutts, maybe Butterworth was involved as well. But as we all know Coutts has been a past master at getting people off the scent.
Scuttlebutt around the waterfront had it that NZL-32 was a bit of a dog and even NZL-20 could beat it, so myself and a few others wrote stories that it seemed there may be problems with the boat.
We had some very devious and clever people and we'd manipulate those situations to our benefit.
It wasn't a case of spreading those rumours - it was just a case of letting them run.
Of course Peter Blake was furious because he was getting calls from sponsors saying "what's going on, the team are telling people the boat is a bit of a dog?".
It was an early indication that Coutts and Butterworth were very good at playing the America's Cup game on and off the water.
Crowds outside Team New Zealand's compound awaiting the lifting of the skirts to unveil the keel. Photo / David White
Coutts set a very high standard, as he does having won an Olympic gold medal. He got off the boat twice in late 1994 to shake the crew up. There was too much laughing and joking and things had got a bit loose. Coutts was very critical of what happened in 1992. When the boat was off the dock at 9, well that could mean 9.30 or 10, rather than being precise and working to a proper schedule.
Nowadays the sailors are all top athletes and they're right at the top of their game and they spend hours and hours a day at the gym. We didn't do that. We had a gym programme that was pretty relaxed and people relied on self-discipline. Russell made a speech to the crew and said everybody knows what they need and know how much training they need. I'm not going to tell you. He said, the grinders have to stay fit and strong, the navigators have to get on and off the boat without having a heart attack and everything in between.
The first word in Team New Zealand is team, and it really was. The whole management style, and the way the sailors were empowered. Everyone had their own responsibilities off the boat. And I think that was very important, there were no hidden agendas - they respected each other's space and responsibility.
I worked in the sail loft and with the winch maintenance. So there was always huge amount of work to do. We were never leaving the dock. We were working 'til ten at night. Everyone had those duties and there was so much work to do. It was good fun doing it really.
It was a necessity driven by budget as well. That campaign we only had the fifth biggest budget in the competition. The budget was $27 million, which is a lot of money back then. But it was a lot less than all the big teams we were racing against. We didn't have the luxury. I think we had 52 people in the team to run two America's Cup boats. For example when we went out training in the two boats we sailed them short-handed. We sailed them with 11 crew on each boat. We just didn't have the money to have two full crews fulltime. The same with the shore operations, we didn't have a big shore team.
We spent all our pre-Louis Vuitton time just speed testing 32 against 38, which we launched over in San Diego, and just trying out different sails and all sorts of stuff. We spent no time at all really learning how to race or gybe or tack. It was a low priority, so we used the Louis Vuitton Cup for that practice really.
Russell and Brad were good at pushing us to our limits. We probably did more sailing than anyone else back then. That was our work ethic: if we sail more we're going to learn more and we'd be doing six hour days in San Diego - we'd come in and it would be night time, towing at night. We only had one day off a week, or one afternoon, and that was to do the washing and get ready for the next day.
It could have been a drag but it wasn't. We all got on so well and had so much fun - you'd get on the boat and you wouldn't want to get off at the end of the day because we'd had such a great time.
Food was at a premium. It was a standing joke on board.
Team New Zealand's grinder Craig Monk outside the New Zealand compound in San Diego holding his packed lunch. Photo / David White
We used to buy our own lunch. We had a $19.98c food allowance per day.
Each individual sailor had to look after their own requirements. And I know that Russell always came on board with no food so you could actually sell him a sandwich or two.
He was always thinking about winning the America's Cup rather than thinking about making his lunch so he was scrambling around. I remember one day [Coutts] paid Murray Jones $3 for a peanut butter sandwich out on the water because he was starving.
You could get him every day. You'd come home and you'd have enough money to buy a couple of beers at the pub.
We had a lot of fun, it was a really good team. That was the other overriding thing, the chemistry amongst the team was fantastic. People got on and worked hard and had a lot of fun.
We had plenty of bullies, we had comedians, we had thugs, we had devious people, clever people, bludgers .... every type of person was on that boat. But it just worked.
Team New Zealand and OneAustralia jostle for position. Photo / David White
Monk: We had been solely focused on boat speed not crew work. We never went out and practiced drops and hoists or anything like that. So [the opening race of the Louis Vuitton challenger series] was really the first day of the team coming together and that was the start of our crew work training at the start of the Louis Vuitton. It's amazing how a fast boat makes your crew work look pretty slick.
The Australian team were favoured to win it, the yachting press hadn't really been paying much attention to Team New Zealand. Then in one of the early races, there were two Australian syndicates racing against one another. I think we started 10 minutes behind them in the match behind and we caught both of those boats up, passed the losing boat and rounded the last turning mark right behind the leading boat, we were actually bow to stern. Joey Allen walked up to the front of the boat, and yelled out to Rod Davis who was driving the Australian boat - "would you get that thing out of our way - we're racing". It was a pretty arrogant thing to say but it was pretty funny at the time.
The boat was an absolute rocket ship. You can afford to be a bit cheeky when you're on a rocket ship like that.
After we raced the Australians for the first time they told the press that we had a breakthrough boat. That's what they said - the opposition. And that was the first time they raced us.
It was quite clear early on this team had the whole package, but they really tried to play it down. The mood in the team was really quite suppressed. There was no celebrating allowed on board - it was just a nod and a well done after each race and on to the next day.
We'd come unstuck in the past where we'd done really well at the start and fallen over at the end. KZ-7 was an example, 1992 we got into a legal issue with the bowsprit in NZL-20. So we were very conscious not to get too ahead of ourselves.
Part of the spectator fleet during the Louis Vuitton cup. Photo / David White
The guys really liked to play it down and show no emotion and that sort of thing. That was a big deal in the team. It would be frowned upon big time [if we celebrated].
Matthew Mason he was a huge bully. And he said "guys we're not going to do any high-fives, it's an American thing" so he just took it on himself to ban high-fives from the boat.
Joey [Allen] and I used to do [a sneaky high-five] every race. I used to go up on the foredeck and pull the spinnaker down and feed it down the hatch and Joey was down below pulling it in. Once we got the thing safely on board I'd always stick my hand down and he'd give me a high-five. Until one day Matty saw us and I knew it wasn't going to be good.
As soon as we went across the finish line, he just turned on us and said "right that's bullshit". He's a bloody big thug. And he grabbed Murray and tried to throw him over the side. I went and attacked him and all three of us fell off the yacht. And Blake is just standing there going "my god, the guys are fighting".
I actually went in twice. I got thrown in another time when we went out testing. David Barnes [one of the Kiwi sailors aboard One Australia], who is a very good friend of mine, used to follow us around in the chase boat watching us, or spying on us I guess, day after day. One day there wasn't much wind about and we were just sitting around, so I got in a chase boat to go and have a chat to him. And then when I went to go back to the boat I said 'oh can I have your cap?' so I went back onto the boat wearing the One Australia cap. I lasted less than a minute.
We had a lot of fun but there was a lot of pressure in that no-mistakes mentality. Trying to produce no-mistakes sailing day after day was pretty draining.
The races seemed very long, sometimes up to three hours long. We did three laps - six legs of like three miles, I think they were. It was a two hour tow just to get to the start, so we'd leave the dock at maybe 9 o'clock in the morning - this is just for one race - and we'd get back at six o'clock at night. For one three-hour race it was a nine-hour ordeal.
After the first round robin we had raced every single challenger and beat them all. We started thinking this is pretty good. We beat them all by good margins. Not lucky wind or close races, we tended to get in front pull away a little bit.
We celebrated (after the first round robin) with a pizza with the whole team and a couple of Steinlagers. I don't think we even had the next day off. There was about a week, or maybe ten days until the next round robins and we saw those days as important as the racing, to keep developing the boat. It wasn't feet up - we were back the next day two boat sailing, testing, whatever we knew we needed to test to make the boat go faster. It went on like that after all the four round robins. We never stopped sailing.
I thought as long as we kept improving it would be very, very difficult for the others to catch up.
Team New Zealand with Murray Jones up the mast looking for wind. Photo / David White
The only point Team NZ lost during the Louis Vuitton round robin was in the jury room.
As smoothly as everything was going, there was still a sense, from outside the camp anyway, that the wheels could fall off for Team NZ. And not necessarily because of something within their control - as we know the America's Cup is famous for its protest-room shenanigans. So when the man up the mast debacle occurred and they lost that point, just a little bit of a shudder went through everyone and we were thinking "Oh here we go again; are they going to pull out all the stops to make sure Team NZ don't get to the end of this thing?".
Murray Jones became known through the campaign as the man up the mast. On very light calm days they put him up the mast. One, because he was the lightest, and two because he was a very good "heads-up man" and spotting those patches of wind.
I was really stupid. It was actually my idea originally. We did a regatta in Wellington prior to the Cup and unusually there was no wind, so I made the suggestion that it might be quite good if I go up the mast and look for the breeze from up there. And I never came down for about three America's Cups.
: Coutts joked that Jones talked too much, so the crew banished him to the top of the mast. But it wasn't a laughing matter when OneAustralia protested - they successfully contested that when Jones was up the mast and the boat heeled over, he was outside the vertical lines of the hull. And he wasn't up there doing a specific task, which was also illegal.
It didn't bother us too much it was just annoying because the rule was about increasing stability. But when you're up the mast you are beyond the sheerline, but you're on the leeward side, so you're decreasing stability, not increasing it. But anyway, what we learnt was the intent of the rule does not make any difference.
We just ignored it and tried to go about our knitting really.
Nobody gave a hoot. We sort of said "well that's not going to win or lose it, who cares?", whereas previously we would have really focused on something like that. And that goes back to the tone Peter Blake set right from the start. When we were getting the thing off the ground I can vividly remember him standing up and saying "look 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 going to win this by building a better boat and sailing better than anyone else". He said: "forget about that other stuff that goes on in the America's Cup - we're not going to focus on that at all. We're not going to be a legal driven challenge any more".
After that I just didn't go so high - I only went to the second spreader.
One Australia crew abandon ship during a race against Team New Zealand. Photo / YouTube
By far the most enduring image of the 1995 regatta is that of One Australia breaking up and sinking during their round robin three match with Team New Zealand. It was the first time in 144 years of competition an America's Cup contender lost a match race by shipwreck.
They had just rounded the bottom mark and Team New Zealand were leading by about 100-130 metres, but One Australia were giving them the ginger. They were in a boat race. Then suddenly - it is something that is seared on my memory as much as the pleasant things - the boat crashes down heavily off a wave, the boat stops, the rigging goes slack and the boat just bends like a banana. There was a huge crack in the hull and it was taking on water big time.
Someone said "there's something wrong with their forestay", because we saw the luff of the genoa go slack. We thought it might have been a broken runner or whatever.
Everyone was looking under the boom and lost focus on their jobs. The next thing it is folding up and disappearing.
"Big Fella, are we going to sink?" - One Australia helmsman Rod Davis to his tactician Iain Murray.
"Yes. We are going to sink." - Murray's reply.
The guys started throwing off their shoes and jumping into the churning seas. All of a sudden we went from a commentary boat to a rescue boat. We plucked about four or five guys out of the water.
The speed that it went down was really scary. That was the worst bit sitting there thinking there might not have been guys that got off the boat because they got caught up in ropes or someone was down below.
It got very hairy there for a while. The time between that first crack and the boat sinking to the bottom of the Pacific was two minutes. Of course there was a real danger that someone could have got sucked into the vortex as the yacht went down if they hadn't managed to get clear.
I found it bloody terrifying. I thought we would be going to a funeral. We were absolutely convinced that there would have been people down below and they would be dead. And I remember the feeling of relief when we heard everyone was okay...and then the Aussie bashing started.
We retired from the race and it was a good job too because we got ashore and checked what we call the tip-cups, which are a rigging element on the mast, and a couple of them had actually yielded, so we could have easily lost the mast that day.
I think we went through that next night and pored over the boat, just double checking that everything was still in one piece and there hadn't been any damage.
After that, no one would actually say it in Team NZ, they weren't brash enough and they were sensitive to the fact it was such a disaster for One Australia, but they realised once the Australians were gone they were really in a pretty good spot.
Black Magic prepares to round the second weather mark on her way to beating OneAustralia by 4mins: 55secs in Race 1 of the Louis Vuitton Cup final. Photo / David White
Team NZ used NZL-38 through round robin 1,2,3 and it kept on winning, absolutely blitzing the opposition. And then, come the semifinals, lo and behold they brought out NZL-32. People had assumed because of the sail numbers 38 was an evolution of 32, so when they brought back 32, everyone thought "what's going on here then?".
Very early on it had quickly became evident 32 was the better boat. It was the more extreme boat for the time - it was longer and narrower than 38. There was the thinking because the design tools were pretty unsophisticated compared to what they are today, there was a bit of uncertainty as to whether we had gone too far with some of the design concepts, so we wanted to hedge our bets a little bit and go back a bit so NZL-38 was a little bit wider and shorter with a little bit more sail. So that was pitched more towards where we thought the opposition might be - and that turned out to be right, that's exactly where the opposition were.
We had learnt from previous America's Cups not to show your cards too early. So we started out racing with NZL-38, but any time in between round robins we were working up NZL-32 and trying to get that as fast as possible. It was a nice luxury to have. We could still have probably won the America's Cup in NZL-38.
Team NZ supporters wearing red socks on the water in San Diego. Photo / NZ Herald
Remarkably, after returning to the water in their pace boat AUS-31, One Australia managed to advance to the final of the Louis Vuitton Cup, where they met Team New Zealand.
The Australians at the end made a bunch of changes and improved their boat dramatically, and they made them over a three-week period. And they really challenged us at the end, if they had have been where they were at the end say a month earlier, it would have been a really close race. They [sinking of their race yacht] forced them to make some adjustments on the fly right at the end not knowing if they would work or not.
On the morning of race three of the challenger finals, Alan Sefton took me on a tour of Team New Zealand's compound as the boat was about to dock out. He was explaining how superstitious these guys were - Coutts always had to be the last guy onto the boat and Blake always wore these red socks. I thought that's a bit weird...red socks with boat shoes? Right.
So I wrote about these goofy good luck charms in the Herald the next day. And then that day, race four, was the day Blake was off the boat because he had tendonitis in his elbows. It turned out to be the only race they lost on the water. The legend of the red socks grew from that day on.
The better Team NZ did the more money they needed. To keep the whole team on and everything running operationally cost money. I think they had budgeted to the end of April, but they had to keep going to the end of May. It really became a problem, it was a good problem, but it was a problem.
TVNZ, one of the Family of Five sponsors, was trying to think of an idea for a campaign to help Team NZ raise money. So somebody at the table suggested "why don't we start selling red socks?". Next thing you know they are rolling off the production line and everybody in New Zealand had a pair. They raised I believe $100,000, which got Team NZ some much-needed new sails. But it also of course got the nation behind the boat. It was a two-pronged campaign and it really worked.
The reason for Team NZ's only loss on the water really was to do with Black Magic - the boat, rather than the supernatural powers of Blake's red socks.
We lost the start seriously and then just followed them around the racecourse. We got quite close but we didn't pass them.
Peter Blake waves after victory over OneAustralia in the second race of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals. Photo / David White
My starts throughout that campaign weren't particularly great - that was a lot to do with how the boat was designed by the way.
We had quite a small rudder and the boat was quite hard to turn so we weren't too ambitious in the prestart because we didn't want to get into too much trouble there. Often in the Louis Vuitton Cup final against the Australians we would come off the line second best and we had to work pretty hard to get past them.
Through our testing period we went smaller and smaller on our rudder and we seemed to be getting faster and faster. We knew it would be difficult but if we could start clean, we were confident we'd be okay over the course of the race to get by if we were slightly behind. If we were even, well that would be even better.
That loss probably did make a few people nervous, but the way they came out the next race and pinged One Australia from the start then you just knew they were in control. One Australia didn't get close again through the series.
Final run to the finish of Team New Zealand's race against OneAustralia. Race 4 of the Louis Vuitton cup final. Photo / David White
It was good to get [the LV series] behind us and be in the final. We did celebrate that. We probably upgraded from the beer to the champagne for that one, but we didn't get too carried away.
I think there was a sense of achievement, but winning the Louis Vuitton Cup was an intermediate goal. The America's Cup was the only thing that we went there for.
Louis Vuitton Challenger Series
Team New Zealand (Royal NZ Yacht Squadron)
One Australia (Southern Cross Yacht Club)
Nippon Challenge (Nippon Yacht Club)
Tag Heuer Challenge (Tutukaka South Pacific Yacht Club)
Spanish Challenge (Monte Real Club de Yates de Bayona)
Sydney 95 (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia)
France America 95 (Yacht Club de Sète)
Four round robin series (RR1-RR4) were held. During RR1 a team scored 1 point per win, during RR2 a team scored 2 points per win, during RR3 a team scored 4 points per win and during RR4 a team scored 5 points per win.
Team New Zealand - 23 wins -1 defeat - 70 points
One Australia - 17-7 - 53 points
Tag Heuer Challenge - 17-7 - 49 points
Nippon Challenge - 11-13 - 28 points
France America '95 - 8-14 - 25 points
Spanish Challenge - 3-11 - 14 points
Sydney 95 - 5-19 - 13 points
*One Australia's boat AUS-35 sunk when racing Team New Zealand during RR4 and they were left with only AUS-31.
Team New Zealand - 9-2
One Australia - 7-4
Tag Heuer Challenge - 6-5
Nippon Challenge - 0-11
Team New Zealand bt One Australia 5-1