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America’s Cup: Another One Bites the Dust

Team New Zealand is the second team in a month to break its mast.

November 8, 2001
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Some questions are inevitably being raised over the millennium rig concept favored by the new generation of America’s Cup yachts after the second breakage in a month.

This time it was the rig pioneers, Team New Zealand, who fell victim to a breakage. They had both of their black boats out on the Hauraki Gulf when a 25-knot squall came through.
The two boats were training, with Dean Barker helming NZL60 and Bertrand Pace in charge of NZL57. As the squall hit, NZL57’s mast broke at the second spreader.

Nobody was injured and, as has become customary on these occasions, members
of rival syndicates were quick to offer assistance. Members of the Prada and OneWorld teams were on the scene very quickly to lend a hand, but the Team New Zealand crew were able to handle the situation.

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The rig that broke was the same one used by NZL60 for its successful defense of the America’s Cup in 2000. The three-spreader rig with its diamond-stay configuration was highly regarded during the America’s Cup as something of a breakthrough and the expectation is that most syndicates will use similar concepts for 2003.

However, Barker said that the concept would have to be closely scrutinized, as this was the second one to break within a month. He was referring to the incident last month when Peter Gilmour’s OneWorld team had their rig break at the first spreader in blustery conditions. Team New Zealand rig designer Chris Mitchell said the cause of their mast failure was being closely examined. “We will have to gaze at our navels a bit over this one,” he said. “It was a good rig — it won the America’s Cup.”

Of course, highly tuned racing rigs break for any number of reasons. It could be a design flaw — or equally the proverbial 50-cent part that fails and brings the whole thing down. “Both of those scenarios are valid,” said Mitchell. “I guess we have to work through all of it pretty carefully.”

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Team New Zealand has a spare mast, so NZL57 will be back in action very quickly, but the rig designers throughout the Cup community are likely to be spending some hours at their drawing boards, checking their numbers and reassuring themselves that their sums add up. Meanwhile, the first of the new generation 2003 Cup yachts arrived in Auckland this week. The Swiss Alinghi team and the Swedish Victory Challenge group shared a Russian Antonov air transporter to fly their new boats in from Europe.

The Antonov arrived at Auckland airport in the early evening and the Swiss boat was transported by night to their base at the Cup village. The Swedish boat followed the next morning, shrink wrapped with lumps and bumps to disguise the shape. Both are expected to be out sailing next week.

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