Broken Mast Costs TNZ Race 4

Stuart Streuli

After a 10-day layoff and a significant crew change, Team New Zealand hoped Race 4 would be a new beginning in their star-crossed attempt to defend the America's Cup. But instead of things getting better, they got significantly worse for skipper Dean Barker and his crew as they lost their rig on the second beat and now trail Alinghi by a daunting 4-0 score in the best-of-nine series.

After three days of strong southeasterly and easterly breezes, the Hauraki Gulf was rougher than it had been during any of the first three races, with swells reaching six feet. While the breeze did peak at 26 knots soon after the boats rounded the leeward mark, it was a pair of monster waves that did in Team New Zealand. The starboard shroud parted at the second spreader and the mast broke 25 feet off the deck. According to syndicate head Tom Schnackenberg, the tip cup, which ties together the discontinuous rod rigging used on America’s Cup Class boats, on the second windward spreader failed and caused the rig to come down.

Since there is no structural damage to the rest of the boat--something Schnackenberg confirmed at the post-race press conference--the team’s shore crew shouldn’t have much trouble replacing the rig with the one from NZL-81 and getting the boat ready for Race 5, which is still scheduled for Saturday. Whether the team’s morale can be repaired as quickly is probably the more pressing question. Team New Zealand came into this regatta brimming with confidence, both in its boat and its crew. Neither has proven itself up to the task in the first four races and the team’s confidence has taken a beating. "We certainly didn’t expect to be racing in conditions like that [26 to 30 knots] during the America’s Cup," said Barker, when asked whether the team pushed hard enough during training. "It’s always hard with new boats knowing how much to push them."

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| Alinghi nailed the start, carrying a half-boatlength lead off the line, and was able to turn that into an eight-second advantage by the first windward mark* * *|

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While the race was officially won when Team New Zealand retired with the broken rig, things started going wrong for Team New Zealand before the five minute gun sounded as the foredeck crew struggled to get the jib up in time and Barker was 12 seconds late entering the starting box. The delay allowed Alinghi skipper Russell Coutts, who started at the pin, to dive low, cross in front, and claim the starboard advantage. The rest of the pre-start was decidedly dull as the two boats never came close together, both seemingly happy to avoid any close confrontations in the sloppy sea. Alinghi lead TNZ back toward the line on starboard and hit the middle of the line just as the gun sounded with Barker a few seconds late. Alinghi was able to build that lead up to 50 meters and hold that advantage for the first leg, rounding the first mark eight seconds ahead.

With both boats surging down the rolling waves--they averaged 13.4 knots for the run--the lead varied quite a bit on the second leg, going from as much as 80 meters to less than 40. In the end the run produced a nine-second gain for Alinghi. As the boats headed upwind a rain squall moved through and the wind picked up from the high teens into the mid 20s. Team New Zealand once again appeared to be shipping an inordinate amount of water in the heaviest puffs, but when the rig fell down the wind was starting to ease and the sun breaking through the clouds. By the time Alinghi finished the race the wind had dropped to less than 15 knots.