“Te Rehutai” in Maori means “sea spray”. But for the holders of the America’s Cup, the New Zealanders in Emirates Team New Zealand, led by Grant Dalton, this definition falls short of fully identifying the boat that’s ready to face the challengers of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. So they have coined a more complex and refined interpretation: “Where the essence of the ocean invigorates and energises our strength and determination”.
Pure poetry, a vision that has strong ties with nature and the sea because New Zealand certainly means rugby, but also sailing and rowing. The final act of the America’s Cup is taking place in home waters for the New Zealanders, in the Hauraki Gulf, and it is set be an interesting, theoretically very well-balanced event.
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli definitely improved in the victorious Prada Cup, but Te Rehutai - as far as what was evident during training - is impressive for its speed, which some have claimed to be more than 100 km/h. Speed alone is not enough to come first in a regatta, but it is a fundamental element. The boat is certainly different from the Italian one in many aspects: more extreme shapes, flatter foils, a particular main sail referred to as ‘Batman’.
In practice, there are two different developments of the same regulation. In addition, it should be noted that when New Zealanders faced the other boats, in the World Series in mid-December, they won five out of six races. In short, some truly tough opponents, who have an ace up their sleeve, in addition to Dalton, namely Peter Burling, a 30 year-old from Tauranga who was one of the masters of the 49er – the Olympic skiff – where he won a gold and a silver plus six world titles.
In 2017 he took the helm of the Kiwi boat and brought the trophy back to Auckland. He too – like Dalton – has the advantage of competing in home waters for a nation that has a long presence and tradition in the America’s Cup.
Their ‘cousins’ from neighbouring Australia – which has a population and GDP that are five times higher – were protagonists of the America’s Cup for two decades until they managed to tear the trophy away from the Americans in Newport in 1987, with the famous Australia II. But after having organised (and lost) the following edition in the waters of Fremantle, they left the scene and basically have not seriously been in the running since.
Since the New Zealanders have got involved in the trophy, they have always been in the limelight: at the beginning, they reached the final of the Louis Vuitton Cup and were stopped only by ‘Big’ Dennis Conner who took the trophy back to the United States with Stars & Stripes. The début was marked by ‘Plastic Fantastic’, the first 12mR made of fibreglass and composite materials in the history of the America’s Cup.
Because the New Zealanders, in addition to being excellent sailors (among other things, straight after the result in Fremantle, they won the Admiral's Cup, i.e. the team World Cup, for the first time), have always interpreted the race to the limit: since they were unable to compete within the budget compared to other challenges, technical innovations and unquestionable mischievousness have always been their weapons of choice.
Raul Gardini risked footing the bill, in 1992, when in the final against Team New Zealand – with Il Moro di Venezia under by 1-4 – protested about the incorrect use of the bowsprit, openly accusing them of being dishonest and in cheating. The jury intervened and without the illegal appendage on the adversary’s boat, Gardini’s crew got the upper hand again and won.
COUTTS AND BLAKE
After racing in a first final – the absurd one of the ‘88 edition, where Conner's catamaran defeated their maxi-single hull - the New Zealanders got it right in 1995, deservedly winning the trophy in San Diego, despite the call to the homeland of the US trophy holders who put the best of all the other crews on the best boat of all.
But the Kiwis under the guidance of Russell Coutts and Sir Peter Blake did not budge and in 2000, in Auckland, they fought off the first assault by Luna Rossa, with a no-fuss 5-0. Coutts later lost some of his popular approval when he landed in the Swiss court of Ernesto Bertarelli, to become the soul of Alinghi; Blake instead is on the hall of fame of sailors and explorers: after a crazy career (he also won the Golden Globe Race and the Jules Verne Trophy), he began to wander the oceans, following in the footsteps of his myth Jacques Cousteau, pledging his oath to the environmental cause. He ended up being killed by the ‘ratos de aqua’ in Macapá (Brazil), in December 2001. This caused nation-wide mourning.
VICTORIES AND DEFEATS
His technical heritage has today been collected by Grant Dalton, after his defeat in 2003. A great sailor, a huge fan of racing bikes (he competed in one edition of the terrible Manx Grand Prix), he has learned to manage and has been able to lead Emirates Team New Zealand to the final a generous three times.
On the roster are two defeats, a more measured one in 2007 and a sensational one in 2013 in San Francisco (when BMW Oracle came back from 1-8 to win 9-8), and the success four years later in Bermuda, retaliating against those who had beaten him. And now Dalton will be gambling a lot of his fame, at home, aged 63, against Luna Rossa.