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  Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 10:22 GMT
Team NZ up against it
Richard Simmonds

It is hard to swallow: Team New Zealand failed to finish the first race of the 31st America's Cup and handed their former skipper Russell Coutts a race win.

A broken boom, and headsail foil failure forced the team to look for a tow home before they had reached the first mark.

It emerged that the Kiwi team had another, unrelated problem before the start of the race when a jib halyard broke.

And their tune-up boat - NZL 81 - also encountered problems.

The catalyst to their difficulties in the race was the amount of water that was pouring in over the side of their race boat - NZL 82 - as it started in just over 20 knots of wind.

The first effect of the excess water was to slow the boat down.

Team New Zealand run into problems in the opening race
Team NZ lost their headsail in the opening race

And then with all the extra weight on board and the fittings under considerably more load, the boom and the headsail foil failed.

The water was hard to shift with Matt Mitchell using a big plastic bucket (the on-board toilet) to do the bailing.

After the race Team New Zealand chief Tom Schnackenberg estimated that there may have been six tonnes of water on board.

Whilst it was an astonishing start to the America's Cup, the day had more surprises to come.

Schnackenberg, who is as respected as any person involved in the America's Cup, acknowledged that his team had sailed in conditions similar to Saturday's, but "had not pushed the boat hard".

It appears that on Saturday, Team New Zealand were still finding out how their hardware performs in a short chop and 20-25 knots of wind.

And that is startling.

It questions the reliability of their boat if the wind blows hard.

Nobody in Auckland is writing off Team New Zealand just yet

Broken parts will be fixed and the team will be ready to start all over again on Sunday.

But how will they be able to fix water pouring over the side when the boat leans over in a choppy sea?

That could prove very tough indeed as it is not just a case of securing a new fitting or replacing a broken part.

Schnackenberg said that they would be working on finding a solution but this will be their hardest job and could be just impossible to solve.

If they fail to do so then Team New Zealand, who like all America's Cup team agonise over adding just a few grams of weight, could be lumbering around the track with several tonnes of excess water on board.

They will then be slow and vulnerable to more equipment failure.

However, it is unlikely that the defenders will face that challenge on Sunday.

A 12-knot sea breeze is forecast and that should see two boats on the track for the duration of the race.

Saturday was an appalling start for the defenders and if any of the nine challengers had experienced a similar opening to their campaign in October, I am certain they would have been written off as serious contenders.

But nobody is writing off Team New Zealand in Auckland just yet.

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