So when did this tradition start? We have to go back to the 1980s, when the designer Bruce Farr started to export his designs and New Zealanders began to win races across the board. The first historic appearance of a hi-tech NZ boat in the America's Cup was in Perth, Australia, back in 1987: the 12m class boat was made of “plastic”, while all the others were made of aluminium. With a young Chris Dickson at the helm, the speed of this craft meant it reached the final, the super-favourite challenger. Unfortunately, team USA’s Dennis Conner caused Dickson to lose his nerve and so the New Zealand crew were forced to admit defeat. Yet the seed was sown. The merchant banker Michael Fay tried to challenge the Americans with a 90-foot monohull, but was beaten by the first catamaran to race in the America’s Cup with a wing sail. He tried again in 1992, but the Moro di Venezia put to rest any hope of success. However, that edition would prove crucial to the fortune of the New Zealand team. Michael Fay's team leader was Peter Blake, who had recently won the Whitbread World Cup with Steinlager. Fay retired, but left the team with plenty of resources: a young Russell Coutts and the tactician Brad Butterworth. Together, they formed the core of the 1995 challenge, eventually winning the America's Cup from the Americans in San Diego. The team went to almost obsessive lengths in their preparation, Blake became famous for his red socks and they won a historic victory, despite having a budget half the size of the other teams.
In 2000, racing in home waters and with the same 1995 team, the Kiwis successfully defended the Cup against the first challenge by the Silver Bullet Luna Rossa. The original crew then broke up: too many attractive offers. Ernesto Bertarelli, in particular, managed to win over the helmsman Russell Coutts, the tactician Brad Butterworth and other loyal team members to form the Alinghi challenge.
Nevertheless, Auckland was not short of other fine sailors, albeit still relatively inexperienced in racing and less confident in defence. Yet they held onto the Cup and Russell Coutts generously relinquished the helm to the young backup helmsman Dean Barker for the last regatta against the Italians.