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Team New Zealand vs Alinghi: The Probable Line Ups

by Magnus Wheatley 12 Feb 2003 08:56 GMT

America’s Cup XXXI is just three days away and after yesterday’s unveiling ceremony where the design secrets were laid bare, this event now comes down to the sixteen sailors aboard both Team New Zealand and Alinghi. Below are the probable line ups and the keen-eyed will notice the absence of two notable America’s Cup performers.

For Team New Zealand, they will bench Tom Schnackenberg in favour of Mike Drummond, in a move that could well be reversed if the opening results go against the Kiwis. ‘Schnacks’ was widely credited for Team New Zealand’s victories in 1995 and 2000 as well as being key to the success of Alan Bond’s Australia II in 1983. The quiet spoken Drummond has gelled well with both Dean Barker and Hamish Pepper and is seen as something of a secret weapon against the expected fireworks that Brad Butterworth will call for from Russell Coutts.

The Swiss have had a change thrust upon them as the sun-blocked grinder Christian Karcher injured his prosthetic hip after a fall in training. The original injury occurred in November but Karcher underwent intense physiotherapy to re-appear in time for the closing stages of the Louis Vuitton Cup. Unfortunately for the three time Cupper he aggravated the injury in February and will be replaced by Swiss national Dominic Neidhart who is competing in his second Cup having sailed aboard the Fast syndicate in 2000. Otherwise there’s no change for Team Alinghi and the ‘dream team’ will effectively be racing the 2000 Kiwi ‘B’ team with a bit of youth thrown into the equation.

Team New Zealand are ‘exactly what they say on the tin’ with one exception. Australian Adam Beashel will be doing the traveller and calling the wind in for Dean Barker. With the expected light winds it could come down to who has the best on-board weather predictor-Beashel or the race-proven Murray Jones. This will be a fascinating contest and with both men microphoned it will be intriguing to see an Aussie up against a guy who has spent a lifetime sailing on the Hauraki Gulf. You’d have to back Jones but it’s just another one of those tough calls that makes this Cup so fascinating.

Up on the bow it’s master against prodigy. Alinghi’s Dean Phipps is widely regarded as the best in the business but remember back to the last race in 2000 and it wasn’t only Russell Coutts who stood aside to ‘blood’ a prodigy. Phipps too entrusted the ‘third zone’ to Jeremy Lomas and he re-appears for TNZ in 2003 as the number one pick. This area could be crucial as we’ve seen in the challenger series. A mistake on the bow can easily snowball into a complete disaster and it doesn’t take much to break a pole as Oracle will attest. If the racing’s close then the pressure will be right on Phipps and Lomas and my view here is that Lomas is leaner and faster than the well-built Phipps and is ready to step up to the plate.

One of the few positions that receives very little press is the pitman’s job. These guys are the unsung heroes of ACC sailing and their position is vital to the safe and smooth running of the boat. With load tensions that would frighten the living daylights out of most of us, it’s a position that not many people apply for. Josh Belsky from the USA has already won the Cup in 1992 with America Cubed and is ‘playing the keyboards’ for Alinghi this time. Belsky is the business, small and compact, his power to weight ratio is one of the best in the Swiss camp. His opposite number is Jared Henderson who schooled under Team New Zealand stalwart Joey Allen in 2000 and will compete in his first America’s Cup race this time. He’s won Round the World’s and competed on the match-racing tour but in this department you'd have to look at Belsky to have the edge.

One of the most important parts of sailing these boats is the grinding department. Long gone are the days when the ‘big guy that’s a mate of yours from the rugby team’ gets a look in. These days you need intelligent grinders with proven track records that know the ‘why’s’ and don’t just ‘do’. Alinghi has John Barnitt and the man-mountain of Kaj Bjorn who have consistently out-grinded the opposition throughout the challenger series. You just can’t bet against them and Jonathan Macbeth and Rob Waddell will have their work cut out to match the very best in the business.

At the back of the boats there’s the inevitable match up between the afterguards with Coutts against Barker, Pepper against Butterworth. The two-time Cup winners against the new boys on the block. I’d back Coutts and Butterworth any day on this one and with Jochen Schuemann adding three gold medals and a silver plus countless world titles, they combine to make the ‘most dangerous afterguard in world sailing’. You just can’t bet against them.

As Dennis Conner famously said “Life is a game. The America’s Cup is how you keep the score.” America’s Cup XXXI will be the most fascinating, intriguing and thrilling version since 1983 and for the 32 sailors it will be the races of their lives. Let the games begin…

PositionTeam New ZealandAlinghi
HelmsmanDean Barker (NZD)Russell Coutts (NZD)
TacticianHamish Pepper (NZD)Brad Butterworth (NZD)
StrategistPeter Evans (NZD)Jochen Schuemann (GER)
NavigatorMike Drummond (NZD)Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI)
Mainsail TrimmerTony Rae (NZD)Warwick Fleury (NZD)
Main TravellerAdam Beashel (AUS)Murray Jones (NZD)
Genoa TrimmerJames Dagg (NZD)Simon Daubney (NZD)
Spinnaker TrimmerGrant Loretz (NZD)Richard Bouzaid (NZD)
Runner-GrinderChris Ward (NZD)Pieter Van Nieuwenhuyzen (NED)
GrinderJonathan Macbeth (NZD)John Barnitt (USA)
GrinderRob Waddell (NZD)Kaj Bjorn (CAN)
MastmanNick Heron (NZD)Dominic Neidhart (SUI)
Runner-Pit AssistBarry Mackay (NZD)Enrico De Maria (SUI)
PitmanJared Henderson (NZD)Josh Belsky (USA)
Mid-BowMatthew Mitchell (NZD)Curtis Blewett (CAN)
BowmanJeremy Lomas (NZD)Dean Phipps (NZD)

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