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Crew Shakeup Could Help TNZ

February 18, 2003
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Stuart Streuli

I have to get it off my chest. Team New Zealand has the boat speed to win this regatta. Both upwind and downwind in Race 3, the defender was able to make up time on the challenger, Alinghi. The difference in this America’s Cup is the extraordinary skill of Russell Coutts and his veteran team.

There was considerable hope that TNZ would be able to turn this regatta around on Tuesday. Everyone on the waterfront in Auckland had quickly learned that three times in America’s Cup history, boats have been down 2-0 and come back to win (Resolute in 1920, Rainbow in 1934, and Australia II in 1983). Now, TNZ must defeat Coutts and company in five of the next six races. This is even more daunting when you realize that Coutts has now won 12 straight cup races. In fact, he he’s never lost one.

So what can Team New Zealand do at this point? Today is a day off. This is an opportunity to regroup. We have been able to observe in the first three races that NZL-82 has the speed to win in light, medium, and heavy breezes. So it really comes down to the crew.

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One thought is to rotate veteran navigator and design coordinator Tom Schnackenberg on board. But, “Schnack” is quick to point out that he did not write any of the software programs used in the performance analysis while racing. And Schnack, at 57, doesn’t feel comfortable with the physical duties required. What TNZ needs is a winning start.

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| Shaking up the afterguard–skipper Dean Barker standing, navigator Mike Drummond at left, and tactician Hamish Pepper sitting–could be TNZ’s only chance to regain some momentum in the America’s Cup.* * *|

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Clearly Coutts has Dean Barker’s number. In all three starts, Coutts has won the favored end of the line and been in control. Listening to the on-board microphones tells us that TNZ’s tactician, Hamish Pepper, and strategist, Peter Evans, have been, at times, tentative. There is no commanding voice onboard TNZ like the one we hear from Alinghi’s tactician, Brad Butterworth. TNZ has Bertrand Pacé, a former French America’s Cup skipper who has worked as Barker’s sparring partner in this campaign. Historically, Pacé has done a good job racing against Coutts on the match racing circuit. Maybe he should be given the wheel at the start. This would be a radical move, but something has to change.

The TNZ crew demonstrates good focus during the race, but the dramatic dejection I see after each loss shows a team that is overly concerned about the outcome of the regatta. Everyone likes a big turnaround in sports. In the current configuration, TNZ lacks the tactical skill to defeat Alinghi. A change could reverse this trend.

Race 4 is scheduled to air on ESPN 2 at 7 p.m. (EST) on Wednesday.

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