Laurie Davidson, the designer who made Team New Zealand great

Laurie DavidsonIf there is one man who has contributed to the great history of Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup, it is Lawrence Karl Davidson, better known as Laurie Davidson. The New Zealand yacht designer, who recently passed away at the age of 95, made a profound mark on the history of the Cup in the editions between the 1990s and 2000, not to mention his contribution and many successful projects outside the America’s Cup. His launching pad in the 1970s was in fact the world of the Half Ton, which Davidson designed in several successful projects, such as Waverider which won the Half Ton Cup in 1978.


team new zealandThe leap into the Cup came in the mid-1980s when Davidson joined the first New Zealand challenge, led by Michael Fay. He worked alongside Ron Holland, Bruce Farr and Russell Bowler, and they pulled the first fibreglass boat in Cup history out of the hat, the famous KZ7 Kiwi Magic (pictured above), also known as “Plastic Fantastic”. KZ7 was not actually the first fibreglass boat that challenge produced, but it was the first to compete for the Cup, causing controversy among the other challengers. Kiwi Magic went all the way to the Louis Vuitton Cup final in the 1987 Fremantle edition, losing to the Americans Stars & Stripes. Davidson, however, had definitively entered the history of the oldest sailing trophy there is.


A moment of the final between Black Magic and Young America in 1995
A moment of the final between Black Magic and Young America in 1995

In the meantime, Team New Zealand was born, making its first appearance at the 1992 San Diego Cup. Mr. Davidson was part of the team but did not have design duties, instead studying the challengers. The Kiwis stopped again in the final in the challenger selection, this time against Moro di Venezia. It was Peter Blake who brought Davidson back to the design area and entrusted him with the project of “Black Magic”, the boat that definitively consecrated the Kiwis.

Russel Coutts, with Brad Butterworth as tactician, lost only two races in the entire Cup, beating Dennis Conner’s American stars 5-0 in the final and demonstrating that he had an extremely fast boat with some cutting-edge design solutions. Thus began a new era for the America’s Cup. And it was Davidson again who designed the new Black Magic in 2000, defending the Cup again with a 5-0 win, this time against Luna Rossa. An almost “mystical” boat, with very particular shapes and an accentuated knee under the bow that made it almost ugly.

Laurie Davidson will continue his Cup experience with other teams, to be inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame from 2007.

Mauro Giuffrè




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