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Team New Zealand’s Hula in the Clear?

January 9, 2003
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Stuart Streuli

The most interesting answers in Friday’s Louis Vuitton press conference were focused on boats that won’t even be racing in the upcoming final of the challenger series. Both Russell Coutts of Alinghi and Oracle BMW Racing’s Chris Dickson flatly denied that their teams had any intention of protesting the “Hula” or second-skin appendages affixed to the aft underbodies of Team New Zealand’s boats. “It looks to me like a good innovation,” said Coutts. “It’s not a lot different from what I expected to see. It looks as if they’ve done some good work. Full marks for them. You won’t get any [protests] from us.” Dickson avoided the question initially, saying that his team was racing Alinghi this week, but when pressed again toward the end of the interview he added, “We haven’t protested. We have no plans to protest.” Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see one of these teams change their minds in a few weeks time.

The second most interesting topic at the press conference, held at 9:30 a.m. local time, was the announcement that the boats will, for the first time in Louis Vuitton Cup history, have umpires on board. Bryan Willis, chairman of the International Jury, said the main duty of the onboard umpires will be to offer immediate rulings on overlaps and to relay information to and from the respective afterguards. “It’s a better game,” said Willis, “it’s better for the skippers to be in tune with the umpires. The competitors prefer it, they’ve asked for it, and we’re happy to provide it.” When asked why this wasn’t done earlier Willis said that not all of the syndicates were in favor of the move. For the final, both were unanimous in their support of having umpires on their boats.

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| Bryan Willis, chairman of the Internationals Jury.* * *|

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The other important jury decision was a ruling that will prevent the teams from using any sophisticated laser range-finding equipment to track their rival’s progress around the course. The teams will be forced to use hand bearing compasses instead. This was not quite as popular with the two skippers.

As for the demeanor of the two long-time rivals, Dickson was especially loose, while Coutts a little more reserved.. Dickson, a four-time America’s Cup veteran, even cracked a few jokes, including the line of the day when he was asked to comment on the news that the Vatican was sending a pair of envoys to Auckland to investigate the spiritual needs of sailors. “I hope they’re sending them here for a long time,” he said with a smile. “They’ve got a lot of work to do.”

As for more serious matters, Dickson confirmed that the team has done extensive work to their boat. “The sail number’s the same and after that the similarities disappear rather quickly. We’re a significantly different boat than we were a month ago.” He also didn’t deflect the notion that his crew is the underdog heading into this event. “It’s [a name] we don’t have a lot of choice over. Alinghi comes in the favorite because of the simple fact that they’ve beaten us more times than we’ve beaten them.” Finally, Dickson confirmed that Peter Holmberg will be handling the start for the first race.

Weather for tomorrow’s opening match of the final is expected to be similar to the past few days. Rain showers, heavy at times, with some wind. The general consensus is that there should be racing on the Hauraki Gulf.

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