The eager underdog & the reluctant favorite. SAILING UNDER ORDERS
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Some observers say the hard wing will also make it harder for spectators to detect ``sandbagging'' by the Stars & Stripes crew - intentional deceleration to make the mismatch of catamaran and monohull appear to be a close encounter.Skip to next paragraph
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The Kiwi boat, for its part, is also a marvel of state-of-the-art technology, including Hewlett-Packard computers that measure everything from boat, air, and water speed, to stress on sails, to the boat's position relative to the finish line and the ``enemy'' boat. The vessel is the longest permitted by the deed of gift - 90 feet at the waterline - and carries a 17-story mast made of a carbon fiber that is twice the strength and half the weight of aluminum. Much of the boat is made of plastic honeycomb and titanium, the superlight metal.
The enormous sail is the size of a baseball diamond, maintaining advantage when the wind is at slower speeds. Allegedly the fastest boat of its size built since the 1930s, the New Zealand has been clocked at a speed of 30 knots, fast enough to pull a water-skier.
Whereas the Kiwi boat has a crew of 40, the American boat has only five.
As the race nears, the two camps - just docks apart on the waterfront here - are still conducting propaganda campaigns to woo press and public to their points of view. A swirl of tourists can be found wandering between docks, comparing boat sizes, a perception that Fay, the Kiwi millionaire, hopes will swing opinion to his side.
At the small bevy of makeshift trailers where he has mounted his challenge since June, Fay is handing out ``Read the Deed'' bumper stickers, as well as those reading, ``I Like The Big Boat.'' He shows interviewers the results of a recent Gallup poll that says 53 percent of American adults feel that ``it is not fair for sailing boats of a radically different type and design to race against each other for the cup.''
When pollsters asked if competitors should be of ``similar type and size,'' 45 percent said yes, and 29 percent felt any boats should be entitled to compete. Part of Fay's $16 million campaign - about $8 million for the boat alone - is exhaustive press kits elaborating the details of what he regards as the defenders' unsportsmanlike conduct in trying to ``dispose'' of his challenge quickly by ``jimmying the rules.''
One chapter outlines Fay's attempt to re-create the excitement and splendor of the cup's early days, when much larger, so-called J-boats were raced.
In interviews, he is also eager to deny that his challenge was unfriendly, but rather arose out of his country's nearly crazed response to its previous America's Cup challenge. In races against Dennis Conner's boats off Fremantle, the Kiwi crew won three of eight. ``When we returned to New Zealand, 250,000 people greeted us. People said they hadn't seen anything like it since the return of troops from World War II,'' says Fay.
Then, legal wrangling between Conner and the San Diego Yacht Club over control of the cup stalled announcements of future races. ``We probably wouldn't have issued the challenge at all if, because of our frustration over delays, we hadn't read the deed of gift,'' he says.
Perhaps 200 yards down the dock, the Stars & Stripes crew and management are not nearly so open with facts and figures, or access to Conner. Indeed, at a press conference this week, the skipper made a brief statement about fairness and refused to take questions - suggesting he is taking a lot of heat.
``I'm fed up with defending myself and Stars & Stripes for having a fast boat,'' the embattled skipper said Monday. ``America's Cup has always been a design competition ... and that has been fundamental.''
Although unlikely, it still appears possible that Fay could win, but observers say it would take major error or breakdown on the Stars & Stripes. If Fay loses, he will ask the New York court that has jurisdiction of the deed to declare the Stars & Stripes an unfair challenge. If she so ruled, the cup would go to New Zealand by default, but Fay says he would claim no victory.
``If it were a horse race, our horse would be hobbled,'' says Fay. ``All we can hope for is that he [Conner] falls off, and even if he does, he still has time to resaddle it, climb back on, and win.''