Originally the scenario was simple: Gather together the financial, technological and spiritual resources of North America and Western Europe, dump them on little old Australia, then snatch the America's Cup and take it back where it belongs, to the Northern Hemisphere, where summer is summer, not Christmas, and a Barbie is a doll, not a backyard grill.
Lately someone's been mucking about with the script. At the end of the second series of races to determine which boat will challenge the Australians for possession of the America's Cup, New Zealand, the poorest and most technologically backward of the six challenging countries, is at the top of the scoreboard, and the gruesome prospect of an all-antipodean America's Cup is beginning to haunt the nightmares of entrepreneurs from California to the Costa Smeralda.
New Zealand's fiberglass 12-meter, known informally as Kiwi Magic, emerged last week from the second round-robin with a perfect record, having beaten the two U.S. giants—America II from the New York Yacht Club and Stars & Stripes from the San Diego Yacht Club—as well as nine other also-rans. At the end of the October series, New Zealand, America II and Stars & Stripes had been tied for first at 11-1. Under the graduated point system that governs the challenger trials—I point for a win in October, 5 in November and 12 in December—the Kiwis lead the challenger fleet with 66 points. America II, with nine wins and two losses in November, is now second with 56 points, while Stars & Stripes, a boat designed for the high winds and heavy seas typical of the waters off Fremantle during the summer months (December, January and February), lost four races and dropped to third place with 46 points.
In the wildly varied weather and sea conditions that prevailed during the first half of November in Western Australia, New Zealand was the only boat that performed equally well in drifters and gear-busters. She beat USA and America II in fluky four-to 10-knot airs, and Stars & Stripes in a 25-knot nor'wester that blew out two spinnakers, incapacitated a mainsail and washed a jib overboard.
"We designed our boat for what we felt to be the average wind here—16 or 17 knots true," said Tom Whidden, the tactician on Stars & Stripes and a veteran of three Cup campaigns. "If you'd told me that we would be sailing 5 races out of 11 in November with our number one [lightest air] jibs up, I would have said you were crazy."
To which Chris Dickson, the cocky 25-year-old skipper of Kiwi Magic, replied, "For those of us who have been here quite some time the weather is doing exactly what it should be doing. Those who haven't spent the time and effort sorting it out will be paying the price for it. This month was quite typical and next month, we believe, will be quite typical as well."
Neophyte 12-meter sailors, even boy wonders like Dickson, are not supposed to mouth off. They are supposed to be awed by veterans like Dennis Conner of Stars & Stripes and John Kolius of America II, and when they beat those veterans they are supposed to say things like "It could have gone either way," or "This is a learning experience for us."
Dickson, who has the face of a choirboy and the cold blue eyes of a gunslinger, is not easily awed. It is said he fired his father, Roy, from his job as tactician on Kiwi Magic early in the campaign. Not only has Dickson knocked off the heavyweights of the 12-meter game—Conner, Kolius, Tom Blackaller of USA, Harold Cudmore of White Crusader, and Rod Davis of Eagle—he and his syndicate have held their own in the first of the political battles ashore. Stars & Stripes had hardly hit town when Conner proposed that core samples be taken from the hull of Kiwi Magic to determine whether her fiberglass construction met the standards required of aluminum hulls by Lloyd's Register of Shipping.
Conner's contention was that fiberglass construction is a difficult process to control and that even under the supervision of a Lloyd's surveyor, which the Kiwis had had, the weight of the glass might be unevenly distributed through the hull. If such an uneven distribution had occurred, Conner contended, and if that uneven distribution just happened to make the boat heavier in the middle than at the ends, Kiwi Magic would have an unfair advantage because the boat would tend to pitch less.
Conner claimed his concern was for the future of the 12-meter class, but since his concern was directed at fiberglass, and Kiwi Magic was the only fiberglass 12-meter around, the New Zealanders, not unnaturally, felt singled out. Michael Fay, the investment banker from Auckland who heads the syndicate, said, in essence, that Conner would have to take a core sample of him first.