Admirals Cup 1987

1987: Kiwis take the double

Excerpt from "The Admiral's Cup" by Bob Fisher

Eh' is a key word in the Kiwi vocabulary. Its one syllable and two letters are full of meaning and can be used in every conceivable circumstance. So when Brad Butterworth muttered 'We won, didn't we, eh?' from behind mirrored sunglasses and underneath a baseball cap, you knew he was over the moon. For 1987 was the year when the New Zealanders achieved what they had long threatened since their first challenge in 1971; the double - the Cup and the top-boat slot with Propaganda, sailed by 'Billy' Butterworth and his boys.

Their effort was uncommonly like the German bids of 1983 and 1985 - a home grown-effort based around a small group who had all the right skills. New Zealand yachting was, and remains, an illusion. Although in the 1980s the Kiwis won virtually everything worth winning, t his giant in sailing is actually a country of only three million people. And while the Kiwis are boat-crazy, having one of the highest per capita ownership rates in the world, there is scarcely any grand-prix IOR sailing at home to speak of.

On a roller-coaster of success, the Kiwis had won the World Youth Championships, five medals at the Los Angeles Olympics, had made the Whitbread Round the World Race their own, won the Kenwood Cup and made an indecently impressive debut at the America's Cup.

In 1987 at Cowes, they beat the Germans and twelve other nations at their own game. They came with the best-prepared team; their boats had excellent speed and the sailors were good enough to sail a textbook series which minimised risk and maximised points. Only Propaganda seemed to have an extra cutting edge with her phenomenal upwind form.

Don Booke, the team manager from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, was not exaggerating when he said: 'We believe we won the cup twenty-four months ago. We sat down and got contributions from everyone who had been involved in the Champagne Mumm Admiral's Cup and had monthly meetings at the Squadron. Our big job was to change the triallists from enemies into friends.'

So the Kiwis put in a full twenty days practice in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour before coming to the UK, and then had another twelve days sailing in British waters, with video analysis to bring crew technique and sail shapes to race-readiness. They even sailed a practice overnight race in the Channel, something few teams had contemplated before. The squad were coached by Californian Rod Davis, who by then had put his roots down in New Zealand through marrying the sister of ace sail designer Tom Schnackenberg. He prepared their programme, advised on sails, suggested new gear and moved crew around. John Clinton, the sail designer for the KZ-7 12-metre, came over to England to re-cut the sails, though Rick Dodson thought the Kiwis had anticipated British conditions pretty well. Dodson, who had been Swuzzlebubble's mainsheet trimmer when she'd been top AC boat in 19081, was now skippering Mal Canning's Laurie Davidson-designed one tonner Goldcorp (ex Mad Max).

No mean sailor himself, with five America's Cups and an Olympic gold and silver medal to his name, Davis was worth listening to. 'I am the catalyst to help them figure out how to do things. You win the AC by putting three boats in the top ten or twelve places in every race. You do that by not breaking anything, by not doing anything stupid and by staying outside the protest room - no bogies, no double bogies, no sand traps!' Admittedly, Davis had good ingredients with which to work. Goldcorp had been re-vamped stripped out by Dodson and Davidson, to be turned into the winner of the New Zealand trials.