All is not quiet down under in Auckland, NZ. Though "racing for the auld mug" does not begin until Friday, Feb. 14, the Hauraki Gulf has been abuzz with boats for the New Zealand Millennium Cup Superyacht Regatta 2003, which started on Monday, February 10. One can only assume that the powers that be in NZ inaugurated this event three years ago when they won the America's Cup and were faced with the perplexity of what to do during the "down time" between the end of the Louis Vuitton Challenge Cup and the beginning of the America's Cup. With many of the skippers and crew who were denied the opportunity to challenge for the Cup, and who didn't want to leave the warm weather of Auckland, this regatta is the perfect excuse to stick around. The regatta is aptly named as the size of the entries range from a modest 80-foot sloop to a 134-foot Destination Fox Harb'r, which is being driven by Dennis Conner. San Francisco's Paul Cayard is steering the 97-foot Canon Leopard owned by Briton Mike Slade, Francesco de Anglis is the helmsman on the 105-foot Italian cruising sloop Ulisse, and the British skipper Ian Walkerwill is driving the oldest yacht in the Millennium Cup, the 100-foot marconi gaff cutter Moonbeam, designed and built in 1914 by William Fife. Other America's Cup sailors include Prada's Gavin Brady steering the 80-foot sloop Innovision, and their Brazilian tactician Torben Grael on board the 112-foot sloop Ipanema. Some of the teams on a few of the boats are rather interesting. Kiwi sailors Kelvin Harrap and Matthew Mason, who sailed for OneWorld will join Robbie Naismith from Oracle on the 111-foot cruiser Silvertip. Tom Whidden, from Stars and Stripes will sail with Kiwi owner Neville Crichton on the 90-foot Sydney Hobart race winner Alfa Romeo. What a beautiful sight these boats must make on the starting line and as they race toward the finish, with the beautiful Auckland harbor as a backdrop.
This year's America's Cup should provide real entertainment. Team New Zealand's boat with the "hula," although untested against a competitor, may prove to be a very fast boat, but Alinghi's win-loss record in the Loius Vuitton Challenger Series shows a team that will be difficult to beat. John Bertrand, winner of the 1983 America's Cup, when speaking of the match up between Alinghi and Team New Zealand, said. "Nobody knows (who will win) - which is a wonderful aspect of the America's Cup. The challenger and the defender have never gone head-to-head. That will only be the case on February 15 (NZ time). It gets down to: is there a difference in speed in the two boats? If there is, then the crew with the faster boat will have a strong advantage. If the boats are similar it is going to be one great contest. But in sailing on the Hauraki Gulf the wind conditions are extremely unstable and that makes many opportunities for a slower boat to win the regatta - unlike most other places in the world." To add to the intrigue, the International Jury has determined the procedures for any team wanting to protest Team New Zealand's controversial hula appendage and says clear and compelling evidence that it touched the hull outside of the permitted attachment zone during racing would be required- and the onus of proof will be on the Challenger. Let's hope the sailing takes its rightful place, and the sideshow is kept to a minimum.
While John Bertrand thinks that the outcome in NZ is difficult to pick, there is one veteran America's Cup skipper, nicknamed "Mr. America's Cup," who seems to have a very good idea who will go home with the Cup. According to Glenn McLean in The Daily News, Dennis Conner says, "I'm picking Team New Zealand. I just like the whole package, with Clay Oliver's design and Tom Schnackenberg's management. He's smart and he's been around a long time. Their boats are fast and since 1967 the fastest boats have won." Maybe Conner has inside information that formed his opinion, or could it be sentiment for the "home town" team? We'll know soon enough, as the racing starts tomorrow, Friday, February 14. For those who may have missed the TV schedule of the America's Cup 2003, it is repeated here: Preview (1 hour) Thursday, February 13 at 11:00pm ET (8:00pm PT); Friday, February 14 at 12 pm ET (9 am PT) (reair). America's Cup 2003: Race 1 - Friday, Feb. 14 at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT); Race 2 - Saturday, Feb. 15 at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT); Race 3 - Monday, Feb. 17 at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT); Race 4 - Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT); Race 5 - Friday, Feb. 21 at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT); Race 6 - Saturday, Feb. 22 at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT); Race 7 - Monday, Feb. 24 at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT); Race 8 - Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT); Race 9 - Friday, Feb. 28 at 7 pm ET (4 pm PT). The America's Cup is a best of nine series. For the latest information on Gary Jobson and ESPN's sailing coverage, visit www.jobsonsailing.com. To be added to Jobson's mailing list, go to: www.jobsonsailing.com/tvsched.html#signup.
The Nautical Center of the Port Washington Public Library is planning an exhibit in May 2003 called "Our Bay." Members of the subcommittee for the exhibit recently held an organizational meeting at the Port Washington YC. The purpose of the exhibit is to recognize individuals, events or businesses, both past and present, that have made an outstanding contribution to the enrichment of the nautical history, heritage and legacy of Manhasset Bay and its unique waterfront. Ginger Marshall Martus came up with the idea and presented it to the members of the Nautical Center a few months ago, and the committee is deciding on three initial honorees. More information will be forthcoming as the project moves toward completion. Ms. Martus is the editor of Bone Yard Boats, a newsletter that promotes the resale of "boats in need of help." For information about this very worthwhile publication, readers can contact Ms. Martus at Nautical Stars (609-859-2370).
For those romantics out there who are planning a special day on Friday, Valentine's Day, you may like to know that love is alive and well in Port Washington. A few weeks ago, during the very cold spell that froze Manhasset Bay all the way to the Great Neck shore, the Mill Pond was also frozen solid and covered in snow. One day, very early in the morning, your reporter was walking her golden retriever, Bentley, and noticed very large letters etched in the snow on the Mill Pond that said, "I Love You!" What fun it was to think about who wrote that message on a cold and windy night for his (or her) special person. Happy Valentine's Day to all!