Radically improved NZL-32 kept under wraps amid rumours it was 'a bit of a dog' until final stages of 1995 America's Cup.

The shrewd tactics displayed by Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth were evident as far back as Team New Zealand's triumphant 1995 America's Cup campaign, according to their old teammates.

In a two-part exclusive online series beginning today at nzherald.co.nz, some of the crew and those close to the 1995 campaign share their memories of Team NZ's famous victory in San Diego.

Coutts and Butterworth, who later defected to Swiss syndicate Alinghi after the Kiwi syndicate's successful defence in 2000, showed an early aptitude for playing the America's Cup game on and off the water.

The team knew very early on that they had come up with a special boat, with testing revealing the designers had made a huge leap since the 1992 campaign, and they did not believe other teams would have made as much progress.

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"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," said Craig Monk, a grinder on board Black Magic and the youngest member of the 1995 crew.

Veteran yachting commentator Peter Montgomery said Coutts and Butterworth devised a plan to throw people off the scent by spreading rumours around the yachting community that Team NZ's new boat was a "bit of a dog", and speed testing against NZL-20, the team's boat during the 1992 campaign, had not gone well.

"When media picked up on these rumours, the crew played down the performance of their boat, with some even going as far as to express their outright disappointment in it.

"We had some very devious and clever people and we'd manipulate those situations to our benefit," said bowman Joe Allen, who went on to be involved with four more America's Cup campaigns with Team NZ, before cutting his ties with the syndicate after the 2013 campaign in San Francisco.

However, Coutts contends: "It wasn't a case of spreading the rumours, it was a case of letting them run."

Team NZ did not use their breakthrough boat, NZL-32, until the semifinals of the Louis Vuitton Cup, instead sailing their second yacht, NZL-38, which was more conservative in design, through the round robin stages of the challenger series.

The team went on to sweep US defender Stars & Stripes, led by Dennis Conner, 5-0 in the Cup match - a win that was greeted with widespread celebrations around the country.

The team returned to a heroes' welcome, with hundreds of thousands turning out to salute the crew in tickertape parades around the country.

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Despite Team NZ's dominance, arguably the most enduring memory of the 1995 America's Cup is the day One Australia, New Zealand's main rivals in the challenger selection series, broke up and sank in the rough waters off San Diego.

"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," said Allen.

Coutts reveals Team NZ could also have lost their mast that day.

"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."

Sail of the Century: The story of Team New Zealand's 1995 America's Cup win
Today: Part 1 - The beginnings of the campaign, building a "rocket ship" and the drama of the Louis Vuitton Challenger series.
Tomorrow: Part 2 - The controversial defender's series, the America's Cup "blackwash" and the glorious homecoming.