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New Zealand's Dickson Likely to Forgo Fiberglass in Next America's Cup Try

March 10, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

For most of 1986, the oceans down under reflected a new heavenly body as it streaked through sport's consciousness, all but obscuring the Southern Cross that Australia would call its own.

Chris Dickson, the young, cocky skipper of New Zealand's KZ7, also known as Kiwi Magic, seemed to be steering his unique fiberglass 12-meter right into history in the America's Cup trials.

Then, suddenly, the star disappeared into the Indian Ocean in the backwash of the dominating triumph by Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes.

Now Dickson, 25, has split with the BNZ Challenge that sponsored the effort, and he isn't terribly sold on fiberglass 12-meters anymore.

A lot has changed in the 12 months since Dickson sailed in the last Congressional Cup at Long Beach, where he'll be sailing again this week.

"I worked for Michael Fay (New Zealand syndicate chairman) to sail with Kiwi Magic and skipper KZ7 in the America's Cup, and that deal is finished," Dickson said Monday after the 10 Congressional skippers had drawn for sails and initial boats in the four-day, round-robin match racing event starting Wednesday.

Apparently, Dickson and Fay held different philosophies about capitalizing on their success. Dickson, like Conner and Kookaburra III skipper Iain Murray, is now represented by Mark McCormack's International Management Group.

"Michael and I saw things in different ways on what to do and what not to do," Dickson said. "I wound up skippering the boat and he wound up running a PR organization, so that deal's finished.

"I'm still keen to win the America's Cup, and I'd like to think that over the next four years I can get enough experience to be good enough."

But if Dickson is to compete in the next challenge in 1990-91, it might have to be for an unlikely second New Zealand syndicate or in a boat from another country.

A year ago, Dickson came to the Congressional Cup raving about the virtues of fiberglass 12-meters. How does Dickson feel about it now?

"I'd build alloy (aluminum) next time," he said. "You can change it."

KZ7's strength became its weakness at Fremantle. Because of its molded construction, it couldn't keep up with the technology that advanced almost day by day.

The ideal arrangement, Dickson says, would be to build one or two of alloy, then "chop and change, chop and change, and then build an identical, final fiberglass boat. The fiberglass one would be a little quicker."

The only thing wrong with that theory is that it's probably technologically impossible.

In any event, the Kiwis were trapped by their own success.

Said Dickson: "Everyone says, 'Hey, you've only been beaten once. You've got the best all-round boat. All you have to do is refine it.' We changed little things, but anytime you'd mention chopping four feet off the boom or something, it was, 'Oh, you can't do it. There's no need to.'

"And if we had made radical changes and been beaten, everyone would have said, 'You screwed up.'

"We kept our testing going and continually talked about changes, but we never had the need to make the big steps. It was common sense. If Conner had won 37 out of 38 they'd have been crazy to change their boat. Circumstances dictated the way that our boat ended up.

"In hindsight, I'm sure we didn't have the best out of our boat. KZ7 is the best all-round 12-meter. From 5 to 25 knots she's the best boat. Our optimum range was in the middle. But against Stars & Stripes we only got 22 to 28 knots."

And then, the day after losing, 4-1, to Stars & Stripes in the challenger finals, the wind died for a week to the conditions Conner dreaded.

In the end, it seemed, Conner had everything going for him: The boat, the breaks and the weather.

"We were new to the game," Dickson said. "We did a lot of things nobody else had done before. We built fiberglass boats. We built two identical boats. We went out and won 37 out of 38. Yeah, we created a lot of milestones down there."

Congressional Cup Notes Dennis Conner is not competing. The San Diego sailor, who won the event in 1973 and '75, declined an invitation to sail in what would have been an appearance anti-climactic to his America's Cup victory. "He has an agent now and is pretty tied up with commitments," said Howard Thompson, general chairman of the event for the Long Beach Yacht Club. But although Conner is off scuttling his "I'm just a poor sailor" image, his navigator, Peter Isler, will represent Stars & Stripes at the helm of one of the Catalina 38s. . . . Australia's Iain Murray, who sailed Kookaburra III into the Cup finals against Stars & Stripes, is competing, but Ireland's Harold Cudmore will not. Cudmore last year, on his seventh try, became the first foreign skipper to win the Congressional, but he promised his girlfriend a trek in the Himalayas after running Britain's America's Cup effort. . . . Dave Perry is the only former winner in the fleet, having won in 1983 and '84.

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