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11 February 2003, 10:36 am
Unveiling Day - Who Will Have the Speed Advantage?
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America's Cup

After the final unveiling ahead of Saturday's first race in the America's Cup, one question remains unanswered; who's faster?
On Tuesday morning, first Alinghi, with SUI-64 and then Team New Zealand, with NZL-82, revealed the undersides of the boats that will carry their hopes and dreams into battle in the America's Cup.

Both boats were last seen on the first unveiling day ahead of the Louis Vuitton Cup Final, but the teams have been free to modify the boats since Alinghi won the Challenger series.

While each team made what they described as 'minor adjustments', the boats on view on Tuesday looked much the same as when we last saw them - no hull appendage for Alinghi, versus the Kiwi 'hula' on Team New Zealand.

Team New Zealand continued its habit of confounding the dockside experts. In 2000, all of the pundits were certain that the appendages the Kiwis showed at the first unveiling were a ruse, and would never see the light of competition. Similarly, at the first unveiling last month, critics were aghast at the long, cigar shaped bulb on NZL-82, and promptly announced that we'd see something different before the America's Cup Match. But on both occasions the 'experts' were wrong, and NZL-82 still sports the unusually long keel bulb.

"There's not very much difference," Team New Zealand head Tom Schnackenberg admitted. "We were pretty happy with NZL-82 as we presented her in January so there's not very much that's changed. We've done a lot of work verifying, sailing with both boats and racing intensely, making changes to the appendages and sails as we go along."

For Alinghi, the bulb, the keel and the rudder are the same, according to design coordinator Grant Simmer. The obvious changes were a slightly different bow shape, and dual shroud rigging which should reduce windage when sailing upwind.

"The big gains we've made have been through the dual rigging and we've been working a lot on the sails," Simmer said. "We know that the rigging change should give us about half a metre per minute upwind. On the bow there's a steeper angle which makes the boat a little shorter and allows us to have a little more sail area."

Simmer says the boat can now carry about two square-metres of sail more than it did in the Louis Vuitton Cup Final and he expects that will help his Swiss team in lighter conditions. All in all, Simmer says he expects they've gained over a metre per second through all the adjustments.

But is that enough to overpower Team New Zealand and the 'hula'?

"Our modelling of what they've got doesn't show it to be that good," Simmer said. "We've heard that their design team thinks it will be nine seconds a mile faster upwind. That's a huge amount that we don't think they've got. In some conditions it might be slightly better upwind. It will definitely be worse in light conditions."

"We think that we're going to be faster upwind, and they're going to be a little bit faster downwind, and that's where we want to be," Simmer said. "Then we can take the early lead and control the race. If you ask our sailors what they want, they want to be fast upwind."

Alinghi's pit man, Josh Belsky backs up Simmer on this.

"If you've got a faster boat behind you, it's got to be a lot faster to get around you because you can slow the race down and effectively become a speed bump," Belsky said. "That all important first cross in the first race is going to tell a lot. All I can tell you is we're confident. We don't know anything about those guys (Team New Zealand) but we're very comfortable with the way we're sailing our boat."

If this second unveiling day perhaps suffered from less drama than the first public viewing of both boats in January, there is clearly more tension and anticipation as both competitors go through their final preparations in advance of Saturday's first race. Thousands of opinions are being offered on who is likely to win, and why, but equally compelling cases can be made for both teams.

"They're pretty even I think," said Oracle BMW designer Bruce Farr after surveying both boats on Tuesday. "It's going to be a fairly even contest. I would be very surprised if either team goes 5 - 0. A lot of the big design differences are actually pretty small trade-offs in terms of seconds per mile. They are all pretty minor differences compared to what you might lose in a windshift, so I think the sailing aspect is going to be very important."

The sailing aspect begins with the first race of the America's Cup, scheduled for a 13:15 start on Saturday afternoon.

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Alinghi reveal All © Carlo Borlenghi/SEA&SEE

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The TNZ Bulb © Carlo Borlenghi/SEA&SEE

Peter Rusch/ISAF News Editor
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