Although it may seem a long time ago now, the achievements of a small landlocked country at the beginning of the year will remain very fresh in our minds for a while, as this achievement will also be credited for changing the future of the America's Cup.
2003 opened with the success of the Swiss America's Cup challengers, Alinghi, who made history in many ways when they won the XXXIst America's Cup Match and brought the oldest, and arguably most famous, trophy in sailing to Europe. This success marked the first time the America's Cup had been won by a European country, the first time a challenging syndicate had won the America's Cup on its first attempt, and Russell COUTTS made history as the most successful America's Cup skipper ever.
That is what began a year in sailing full of records broken, phenomenal achievements, bitter disappointments, adrenalin fuelled racing, epic voyages, and groundbreaking developments in the sport.
As the year started, the finalists in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series had already been decided in Auckland, New Zealand. The Louis Vuitton Cup final was to be fought out by two America's Cup veterans and countrymen, Chris DICKSON, and Russell COUTTS. Both from New Zealand, Dickson held the record for winning the most Louis Vuitton Cup races ever, and Coutts had already won the Cup twice, with Peter Blake and Team New Zealand in 1995 and 2000.
A close and hard fought Louis Vuitton final, which the 5-1 scoreline may not have reflected, saw the Swiss syndicate headed by business man Ernesto BERTARELLI, win the right to challenge Team New Zealand for the America's Cup.
Team New Zealand were an unknown quantity in this year's Cup. Young skipper Dean BARKER steered the final race in the last cup in 2000, and after the departure of Coutts, had taken the lead role permanently. Their training and design process had been shrouded in secrecy, whereas Alinghi had been out in the open throughout the whole Louis Vuitton challenger series.
Whilst many predicted that the old master, Coutts would once again triumph over his protégé Barker, no one could have predicted the disasters that were to befall Team New Zealand as they went down 5-0 to the rampant Alinghi Team in the XXXI America's Cup Match. Taking on water, a broken boom and catastrophic mast failure gifted the Challengers 2 races, in the remaining three. Alinghi won by the closest average delta, that of a mere 25 seconds, and on 2 March 2003, Coutts' place in America's Cup history was assured. Amazingly, the XXXI match almost made the record books for the longest ever. Its 16-day period is two days shy