One thing New Zealanders are good at is needling the opposition, and Team New Zealand had the sharp points out this week on the matter of consorting with the enemy, something they would very much like to do.
"They're rude, the way we see it," TNZ's America's Cup tactician, Brad Butterworth, said of 11 challengers assembled here for four months of trials. "It's like we invited them for dinner, and then they won't eat with us. We invited them to come down here and go sailing, and they won't do it."
"They'd learn as much as we did," chimed in Dean Barker, a crewman on the team that hopes to successfully defend yachting's crown jewel in the 30th Cup match in February.
The Kiwis are on a semi-serious mission to persuade challengers to share some quality training time on the water. "We've been talking to them," grumped Barker, "but it looks like the decision has been made to stick to themselves."
"We'd do it," agreed Hamish Pepper, another crewman. "Of course we would. We'd welcome it."
But challengers have shown no inclination to share time on the water with their future foes. That follows a venerable Cup tradition, where it's all against one as challengers from around the world team up to try as a group to unseat the defender, with the best of the bunch advancing to the final match.
Last time a challenger helped a defender in an organized way was 1987, when the self-same New Zealanders sparred and trained with the Australian defenders in Fremantle before the Cup match, in hopes the Aussies would beat arch rival Dennis Conner and keep the trophy in the southern hemisphere. The Kiwis were roundly criticized for it.
Now they want help of the sort they gave. They're all alone in their quest to beat the best of the challengers, whereas the winning challenger will have raced 60 times against all comers before getting to take on Team New Zealand in the best-of-nine series for the Cup.
Poor New Zealand has no one to race but itself, and no way of measuring its performance against a prospective challenger if it can't line up at some point against someone from the challenging fleet.
Hence the needles. "I think they should sail with us, sure," said Kiwi skipper Russell Coutts. "As challengers, we would have welcomed it in San Diego," when Team New Zealand was on the other side of the fence.
"There's no rule against it," conceded David Elwell, chairman of the America's Cup Challengers Association, but he said no one plans to line up with the Kiwis.
Which means the home team must continue its lonely practices on the Hauraki Gulf. Two new coal-black Kiwi boats have been launched, and Coutts and his team trial them daily in sight of the area where challenger races are run. New Zealand's sleek, low racers are seen silhouetted against the distant hills, pacing in tandem along the shore, back and forth, back and forth.
There are advantages to the regimen, said Tom Schnackenberg, TNZ's design coordinator. "We can make the most of every day, testing what we want, while the challengers can only do their two-boat testing between rounds.
"But they get the adrenaline in racing that gains you improvement by doing what you have to to beat the opposition. They get a real impact from a gain.
"The quality of our preparation is all up to us, and it makes it pretty interesting. It's the first time any of us has been in a situation where we train and train, and it's all for five to nine races. When we get to the match, we can't say, 'Oh, well, right, we'll just go back and reconfigure the boat.' "
"That's one of the things we're having to learn," said skipper Coutts. "It's going to be a bit of a guess, measuring ourselves against the challengers."
Which suits the challengers fine.
Races were canceled today when rain and winds of more than 20 knots swept the course. It put off eagerly awaited matchups of the three top contenders, Prada, AmericaOne and Young America, all of which remain undefeated.
Wednesday's racing was in breezes that built to 14 knots, the strongest so far in the budding Cup season. The Italian boat Prada beat Spain by 1 minute 9 seconds in the morning and America True in the afternoon by 1:25; the New York Yacht Club's Young America beat France by 2:04, then had a bye in the afternoon; and AmericaOne took its only race of the day over France by 1:26.
Racing was marred by an accident on the Japanese entry Nippon. Bowman Toshiki Shibata was smashed in the face by the spinnaker pole when a fitting opened during a spinnaker set. The pole, under heavy load, dropped down suddenly and broke the 35-year-old sailor's nose and jaw and knocked out several teeth. He was hospitalized overnight and released this morning.
The closest race of the day was between rival U.S. entries America True and Abracadabra. The coed crew on True managed to hold off a hard charge by the all-male team on Hawaii-based Abracadabra, tacking 27 times up the second windward leg to round the turning mark just eight seconds ahead. True held on for two more legs to win by 26 seconds.
The other U.S. entry, Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes, won its morning match over Nippon by 1:15 and the afternoon race against winless Swiss entry FAST 2000 by 43 seconds.