Hard News by Russell Brown

The Samoans of Yachting

This churning, foaming host of craft - little yachts, sleek superlaunches and the big, black old boat they used to dress up for Xena - powers away from the marinas to … nowhere. This arbitrary patch of sea looks no different to anywhere else in the harbour, (especially if your reference point is Rangitoto), save that a boat and two bouys mark it as a racecourse.

But everything about race day three of the America's Cup emphasises the economic momentum generated by what is, at its core, of no great importance - just a private yacht race. The morning bustle at the Viaduct, where locals and rich visitors hurry past each other to their meeting points. The charter fees, the catering, the diesel and the services. It is a big, delicate bubble.

So anyway (he says, collapsing softly into the past tense), Telecom invited me for a day out on the Pacific Mermaid, a spanking superlaunch that carries enough fuel to motor to Los Angeles. There were a couple of other journalists, and some brass from TV3, but mostly, it seemed, the passengers were guests of investor relations: Macquarie Bank, J.P. Morgan, Rubicon.

It's called relationship-building. It seems a long, long time since the day Telecom sued me for everything they could think of. No hard feelings, and all that. I sat on the lower deck and swapped stories with the people from Xtra.

Watching the race from out on the water is two experiences in one: the familiar, plotted-to-the-last-metre TV experience, and the altogether grander, more mysterious view from the top deck. These yachts look indisputably magnificent on the water, their high, shining sails pivoting against the wind. I spent a bit of time just leaning on the rail looking at those sails, without benefit of Virtual Spectator or any real idea of the state of the race.

Three times before the race began I heard the same, confident rumour: not only did NZL82's boom break on Saturday, the hull cracked. They didn't have time to fix it for Sunday, and by the last beat they'd taken on too much water to respond to Alinghi's pressure. The boat had been repaired and "baked" until 2am. It was fixed, and that rumoured rocketship speed would finally become apparent.

It didn't - but it's hard to imagine how many people could have formed the impression that the black boat was significantly faster than everybody else's. What got the knots?

I can't see how Team New Zealand can come back from here, or mount another challenge wherever Alinghi chooses to defend - probably in the Mediterranean. But New Zealand's role in the regatta stretches beyond the host defence: many components of the competing yachts were made here; North Sails, the Californian company that made all the sails for all the yachts, has a branch here. And, of course, New Zealand will still provide expert sailors to the leading syndicates. It won't be our game, but it won't run without us.

"We'll be like the Samoans in the All Blacks," observed the bright young man from McKinsey. That's the kind of highly distilled thinking that you pay analysts for, isn't it? Perhaps we are getting a dose of the medicine we have freely administered in the rugby world. Perhaps it was inevitable.

Anyway, here's a graph that illustrates the size and shape of the economic elephant in the Oval Office. Bush Jnr has, in remarkably short order, returned the US fiscal position to the depths it plumbed under his Dad, and then some. Conservative parties in most places stand for fiscal prudence. In the US, the opposite appears to be true.

Here's an analysis by Jeffery Tucker, VP of the libertarian-influenced economic think-tank the Mises Institute, of Bush's religious beliefs. And a look from Mises at the cost of war: "If the war is so popular with the present generation, then make it foot the bill now. Such an economic reality, stated firmly by our leadership, may have forced a more realistic assessment of the Iraqi threat and a more serious consideration of less costly alternatives to the present buildup of forces."