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America's Cup Update : Dickson's New Zealand Boats a Threat

June 27, 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 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 awhile 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, and there were guys that could sail equally well when less prepared," Dickson said. "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 if the Kiwis, in their first America's Cup effort, have hit upon 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.

"There's no question that fiberglass is stronger and stiffer and lighter," Dickson said.

Rumors recently circulated that the New Zealanders were having second thoughts, that they would build their third boat--the one they'll campaign--of aluminum. But designer Bruce Farr said: "The new boat is definitely fiberglass."

At last count, 29 12-meter yachts will have been built by the 12 challenger and four Australian defender syndicates by the time competition starts. All except three will be of aluminum, which is worth 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.

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