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New Zealanders Have One Word to Remember--Plastics

June 26, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Chris Dickson, the young skipper of New Zealand's America's Cup campaign, jokes that the Kiwis chose to build their boats out of fiberglass "because nobody in New Zealand knows how to weld aluminum."

If Australia II was the "Wonder from Down Under" in 1983, 12-meter traditionalists predicted that the New Zealand boats would be the "Blunders from Down Under" in '86.

Instead, fresh out of the molds, the two boats became the "plastic fantastics" of the 12-meter World Championships last February. The one sailed by Dickson placed second to the new Australia III and the other was seventh overall.

"We'd been sailing 'em for less than two weeks," Dickson said. "It takes a while to get to know any boat, so it's quite obvious we've got very, very fast boats, which has the competition worried."

Some observers gave Dickson's brilliant sailing at least equal credit.

"Boat speed makes you look like a tactical genius," he said.

Dickson particularly enjoyed beating America II, the New York Yacht Club entry that placed third after extensive practice sailing in the same waters.

"They saw that their standard wasn't good enough," Dickson said, "and there were guys that could sail equally well when less prepared. They suddenly realized the two years they put in still left them behind guys who'd been there two weeks."

Some rivals are quietly wondering now if the Kiwis, in their first America's Cup effort, have discovered an even larger edge than the Aussies' winged keel of '83. A major consideration this time is a boat's ability to hold together in the fierce conditions off Perth.

Said Dickson: "There's no question that fiberglass is stronger and stiffer and lighter."

Rumors recently circulated that the Kiwis were having second thoughts, that they would build their third boat--the one they'll campaign--out of aluminum.

But designer Bruce Farr said: "The new boat is definitely fiberglass."

At last count, 29 12-meter boats will have been built by the 12 challenger and 4 Australian defender syndicates by the time competition starts. All except three will be of aluminum, which is equal to about 300,000 beer cans per boat when it's over.

"And we haven't entered the America's Cup to be second," Dickson said.

Speaking of beer, the last two new boats probably will be Australia IV, which is Alan Bond's successor to Aussies II and III, and Kookaburra III, both due to be launched in August.

Bond owns Swan Brewery. Carlton and United Breweries of Melbourne, vying with Swan for domination of the Australian beer market, recently donated $1 million to Kookaburra, which is named after the swiftest bird in Australia.

Looks like a buildup to a beer bust.

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