The new edition signals the end of the glorious but outdated 12mRs vessels. The new IACC (International America’s Cup Class) is born: from now on the boats will be 24 metres long with a weight of 20 tonnes and a sail surface of around 200 square metres, extremely powerful upwind but above all really fast downwind. The crew is composed of 16 people plus a seventeenth member, who is not allowed to manoeuvre.
You can read the precedent article here: America’s Cup 1987-1988, the cup goes home
The Frenchman Thierry Peponnet comes up with a good definition: “It’s like a Formula 1 racer, driven by a team of rugby men”. Expectations are high in San Diego for the new event; the Americans are very combative: after three and a half months of regattas, between the five syndicates, the final clash is between the surprising America3 owned by magnate Bill Koch and the Stars & Stripes. This time the old lion Conner has to lower his sails.
The Moro di Venezia (Moor of Venice)
Against them, there are seven teams from the Louis Vuitton Cup: two Australian, the debutants from Spain and Japan, the French, the New Zealand favourite and the Moro di Venezia. Raul Gardini, a passionate fan of sailing and one of the richest industrialists in Italy, has certainly spared no expense. He has made Venice his headquarters for the challenge, launching the first of the five vessels on 11th March 1990 on the Grand Canal: director – Zeffirelli, music by Morricone, all the gondolas surrounding the IACC, thousands of guests.
Behind this set design, there is an extremely well-organised challenge, with the direct involvement of Montedison, the pennant of the Sailing Company of Venice and major professionals in every sphere of activity. Starting with the skipper and general manager Paul Cayard, a talented and highly ambitious Californian. At the end of the three phases of the Round Robin contest, the fifth Moro di Venezia grinds out victory after victory and comes out in third position: in the semi-final it beats the Ville de Paris and reaches the decisive encounter with the New Zealand which had eliminated the surprising Japanese.
Photo credits: Stephen Dunn /Allsport
The titanic encounter
The final of the Louis Vuitton Cup was the first sailing event capable of keeping thousands of Italians fascinated by the spectacle, almost all of whom were new to sheets and spinnakers. During April of ’92, the “nights of the Moro” told of an epic challenge: Paul Cayard became the champion of the moment and the crew, composed entirely of Italian yachtsmen, became as popular as a football team. The New Zealand, entrusted to the US skipper Rod Davis, won the first regatta by one minute and 32 seconds; the Italians drew level by just one second! Then the kiwi team won three races back-to-back: it was then that Cayard, just one point away from defeat, made a protest about their incorrect usage of the bowsprit. The protest was upheld and the previous victory was cancelled.
Pulled back to 3-1, in order to avoid a potential disqualification, the New Zealand removed the reason for the casus belli: the boat, without its bowsprit, seemed indeed to be less rapid and a certain amount of despondency drove them to commit basic errors, to such a point that they replaced their helmsman. In place of Davis, a young talent whom we would encounter once again as an active player in the following decades, appears: Russell Coutts. With a stunning comeback, the Moro di Venezia triumphs with a 5 against 3: this is the first time that the Louis Vuitton Cup finishes with a non-English-speaking team and it grants access to the final challenge.
The final challenge
Bill Koch is a newcomer to the America’s Cup but he is certainly not unprepared, as well as being extremely rich. During the selection races he has organised an almost spy-like network to check on the challengers’ every move. He has an extremely fast boat, but only with a medium-strong wind behind it, designed by an absolutely top-level team. And for the helm he has placed his trust in a veteran with a swathe of honours by the name of Buddy Melges, 62 years old: he was old enough to be Paul Cayard’s father but will prove that he is an ace.
Perhaps the Moro di Venezia underestimated its adversary, or perhaps the espionage was useful to the defender, but the facts make it clear that the final in early May is unquestionable: 4-1 for the America3, aided also by a week of bad weather, which is ideal for the vessel. For Raul Gardini’s team there is the small satisfaction of having won a regatta (amongst other things, by dropping the spinnaker on the finish line and thus winning by one second), but more importantly of having created an icon amongst the sporting greats: the Lion of San Marco at the stern and on the sails, the most famous aria from Turandot played every time the vessel leaves port, and the smile of Paul Cayard who will even be asked to become the sporting director for Ferrari. A pity, though, that within a few months, the dream of a revenge match disappears like snow melting in the sun: in September a really difficult period starts for Italy and Gardini would die the following year.