U.S. designer for Kiwis, Italy mulling result

America's Cup: Doug Peterson is not as concerned with working for foreign entrants as he is with why his latest design, Prada, was swamped by Black Magic, an improvement on his original.


March 05, 2000|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Wonder why, for the first time in 149 years, there was no American boat in the America's Cup race here? Look no further than bearded, California yachting guru Doug Peterson.

Described in the official race program as "the hottest America's Cup designer," he has almost single-handedly scuttled U.S. chances in the past two Cup competitions.

First, he was a lead designer of the New Zealand boat, Black Magic, that brought the Cup to Auckland in 1995 by defeating veteran U.S. skipper Dennis Conner, 5-0, in San Diego.

To add insult to injury, he co-designed the Italian boat of Prada Challenge, Luna Rossa, which this year defeated five American challengers -- and racers from five other countries -- to win the right to challenge the Kiwis for sailing's most prestigious trophy.

Fellow Californian Paul Cayard, winner of the 1998 Whitbread Round the World race and the American who got as far as this year's challenger finals, wanted to hire Peterson for his AmericaOne campaign four years ago but couldn't afford him.

Patrizio Bertelli, boss of Italy's Prada high-fashion leather-goods house and sole $50 million-plus sponsor of the Italian syndicate, could pay his price.

This is why Peterson helped end Cayard's ambitions to return the Cup to the United States, where it resided for 132 years until the Australians became the first non-Americans to win it in 1983.

Peterson, who also designed Bill Koch's 1992 Cup winner, America3, is unfazed by his involvement in the demise of American dominance in the Cup.

"I think the world is quite an international place these days," he said affably.

His major problem now is that the boat he co-designed with German Frers for the Italians to beat all challengers, was itself thoroughly beaten by the New Zealanders, who used his 1995 winning boat as the test bed for their new, innovative Black Magic.

He wonders why. He is not ready to accept that the new Black Magic is a faster boat all-round than his Luna Rossa.

"We are capable of winning, definitely," he said. "There's no reason why not."

Sailed well, in the right sea conditions and with the wind advantage that prevailed on the right-hand side of the course in land breezes, Prada should have been able to show Black Magic its wake, he said. But Italian skipper Francesco De Angelis was unable to prevent Kiwi skipper Russell Coutts from regularly getting and keeping the wind advantage.

Peterson knows perhaps as much about the Kiwis' second-generation Black Magic as anyone outside of Team New Zealand.

`Hats off to them'

When he left Team New Zealand for Prada, the Kiwis already were talking about some of the boat's innovations, including its new bow. It is called a "knuckle bow," a compromise between the classic long bow on Prada and a destroyer bow, which is almost vertical. It increases the boat's water line and its potential speed.

"It's not that nobody thought of it. It's just that nobody made it but them," Peterson said. "So, hats off to them."

He has been particularly impressed by Black Magic's "millennium rig," which has three instead of the usual four spreaders, the horizontal cross-trees that give the mast its lateral support. The diagonal stays go through the mast from spreader tip to spreader tip in a new, crisscross formation.

Peterson estimates the new rig saved the Kiwi boat up to 8 kilograms in wind drag. That gained them more than four seconds on an upwind leg, not much in ordinary life but perhaps a boat-length or more in the America's Cup.

He calculates that the Kiwis' innovative tactic of removing the mast-head backstay during upwind legs probably saved them another 4 kilograms, or another two-second gain in the boat's speed, which translates into another potential advantage of half a boat-length.

"The rig is certainly interesting," Peterson said. "I think they have done a very good job on that. They have done their homework well.

"There are always going to be new features and new ideas appearing. Some of those ideas will be good. The story on other areas of the [Kiwi] boat is still in question, because we have not seen all the [weather] conditions."

Working with the Italian design team, Peterson made Luna Rossa fast enough to win more than any other boat in the varying conditions during the four-month challenger elimination series.

Peterson insists the Prada-sponsored boat should have been competitive with Black Magic.

"The speed differences are small. Faster is not faster by much," he said.

But he acknowledged that Black Magic, designed so that its speed-influencing water length increases as it accelerates, showed a clear edge in winds above 15 knots.

"The faster it goes through the water, you start to see a slight difference," he said.

In the first race, the Italians appeared to have a momentary chance to cross in front of the Kiwis to take the wind but backed off at the last minute. Critics said their first-leg timidity cost them the race.

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