SAN DIEGO — Pressure from Il Moro di Venezia skipper Paul Cayard on the bowsprit issue "intimidated" the jury and knocked New Zealand off balance in the America's Cup challenger finals, Rod Davis, the Kiwis' deposed skipper, said Sunday.
New Zealand led the best-of-nine finals, 4-1, before being stripped of its fourth victory on Cayard's protest. The Italians then won four straight races to qualify for the Cup match.
Davis, replaced by trial boat skipper Russell Coutts, wasn't even on the boat for the last two races. Between packing up to return to New Zealand and serving as an expert race commentator for New Zealand television, Davis reflected on the last few, turbulent days of the challenge when the Kiwis' hopes collapsed.
"What I wanted to do was have Russell start the boat and then I'd steer it after that," Davis said. "The management didn't want to do it that way."
The switch was made by team manager Peter Blake, no doubt with the approval of syndicate chief Sir Michael Fay.
"I didn't even get offered the (position as the idle) 17th guy," Davis said. "I'd thought, ah, well, I'm sure they'll have me be the 17th guy just to watch and be able to make a list (of suggestions). There were some big knives flying around here."
Davis didn't think it was fair to Coutts, either, having him steer the Kiwis' tricky, tandem-keeled boat with limited experience.
"Russell got thrown in the deep end . . . chucked in the water and told, 'Swim,' " Davis said.
The Kiwis might not have been driven to such a desperate move if it weren't for the bowsprit dispute, Davis believes.
"I think Il Moro intimidated the whole decision-making process by the judges," Davis said. "(Cayard) hammered 'em. We thought, boy, you watch this, they're gonna hammer back. But they got intimidated.
"The win taken away ticked everybody off. It was a really harsh penalty for eight seconds when the afterguy was not tight enough. We've seen people sail down reaches without spinnaker poles and they didn't take the win off.
"Then we got into a whole series of technical protests after that--us filing against them and they filed against us. After the first couple of races I spent more time in the protest room than in the races. (The crew) had to go out and practice a whole new technique the day before the (finals).
"The whole bowsprit issue, I felt like the ground kept shifting underneath us. Every time we'd say, right, these are the rules, the jury would come out with another ruling. Then we'd get settled into that one and Cayard would file another protest and we'd have a slightly different interpretation."
Davis also contradicted Coutts' version of the original crew selection last December. Coutts said recently that when he didn't win the skipper's job he wasn't offered the role of tactician. Others said he refused the tactician's job.
Davis said, "The true story is the original crew list, the way they wanted to put it together, was with me skippering the boat and Russell doing the tactics. Russell is very talented but very quiet. You never know what he's going to do next."
Davis, who grew up on Coronado but moved to New Zealand in 1987, will sail a Star boat for that country in the Olympics at Barcelona. He said he would sail another America's Cup for New Zealand but doubted the Kiwis would challenge should the Cup go to Europe.
"For New Zealand to mount a campaign and go off to Italy would be really difficult," Davis said. "Financially, it's hard . . . halfway around the world. Language-wise it's a problem. We come to America, we learn to drive on the other side of the road, but past that it's OK.
"Italy, you can't read the street signs, can't order dinner. In Italy you go out to dinner at 10 o'clock. I'm in bed by then.
"We want (America 3's) Bill Koch to be successful so we'll be able to mount another challenge. My heart wants Koch to win. My head says Cayard's gonna win."