-- Thousands of people jammed syndicate row today as Team New Zealand and Alinghi dropped security skirts to show off underwater design secrets before the America's Cup match starts Saturday. Trouble is -- no secrets.
"Basically," said TNZ syndicate chief and design coordinator Tom Schnackenberg, "we unveiled the same boat we unveiled a month ago," before the start of challenger finals.
Likewise at Alinghi's elegant, graphite-and-red base next door, the boat looked much the same as what was shown in January. It makes you wonder why they take the trouble to hide them.
The good news is that the designs are quite different, and since they've never raced each other no one knows which will be faster. "You wouldn't know where to put a buck here," said Russell Bowler, chief engineer for veteran Cup designer Bruce Farr. Odds at the British bookmakers William Hill make TNZ about a 3-2 favorite.
Both boats sport handsome, powerful hulls. Alinghi looks more conventional below, with a dolphin-shaped ballast bulb at the bottom of a long, fin keel and two wings sprouting from the middle of the bulb.
TNZ has the famous "hula," a 20-foot-long horizontal hull appendage attached to the bottom behind the keel, which is designed to increase waterline length and thus potential speed. It also has a torpedo-shaped, 23-foot-long ballast bulb hung from the keel with wings affixed to the bottom, which is unlike any ballast bulb ever seen on a Cup boat.
"The boats are very different in every respect except the rigs [mast and rigging]," said Mike Drummond, TNZ's navigator and a member of the design team. "You'd expect one to be faster and one to be slower, though maybe not in all conditions."
The best guess from assembled experts is that Alinghi will have an edge on upwind legs and in light breezes, while TNZ should be faster in stronger breezes and downwind. "Maybe it will all come down to sailing skill," Bowler said with a laugh, then added, "Nah!"
The America's Cup almost always is won on boat speed, but sailing prowess may be more important than usual in this best-of-nine match. Alinghi's crew, led by two-time Cup champion Russell Coutts, his longtime tactician Brad Butterworth and three-time Olympic gold medalist Jochen Schuemann, has an immense experience edge.
Team New Zealand has a 29-year-old skipper, Dean Barker, with one Cup race under his belt, and a crew of mostly novices. If the boats prove equal in speed, or even close to it, crew work could be the deciding factor. But that's a big if.