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Few Kiwi Fans Make Trip to Partake of Cup

Times Staff Writer

The America’s Cup race is just a day away and the New Zealand presence in San Diego is unmistakable: Kiwi venison, Kiwi sparkling water, Kiwi tourism films, and of course, the Kiwi entourage and its gleaming 133-foot monohull yacht, KZ-1.

About the only thing missing are the Kiwi yachting fans.

In dramatic contrast to the Kiwi pilgrimage to Fremantle, Australia, 21 months ago, most New Zealanders will be following this year’s America’s Cup challenge from Down Under.

“As it translates into traffic, that is bums on seats, (the America’s Cup) is a non-event,” a spokesman for Air New Zealand said Monday from Auckland, New Zealand.

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“Unlike the America’s Cup at Fremantle last time, there is very little interest from New Zealand to travel to San Diego to view the Cup live,” he said.

Though no one has an exact count, Maggie Kerrigan, a spokeswoman for the New Zealand Tourist Office in Los Angeles, said she expects perhaps 500 Kiwis in the city for the race, many of them permanent residents of the United States.

Turned off by the belief that Dennis Conner’s catamaran Stars & Stripes will trounce Michael Fay’s huge monohull, many New Zealanders are passing up the 12-hour plane flight to the United States, which costs about $1,100 in American dollars round trip, to watch the action on television over breakfast at home Thursday morning.

“People are saying that it seems like a bit of a waste of time racing,” said John Neutze, marketing officer for the New Zealand Tourist Office, at the organization’s booth Monday in America’s Cup Village at Seaport Village.

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“There’s a concern that we’re going to be beaten, and we’re going to be beaten unfairly,” said Rona McKenzie, an Auckland native who came to visit a niece in Mira Mesa and watch the race.

New Zealanders have joined Americans in frustration over the court battles between the two syndicates. “New Zealanders, like the Americans, got a bit peeved with the to-ing and fro-ing in court,” Kerrigan said.

And, with just over a month since a New York judge ruled that the race would be held this week, most New Zealanders had too little time to plan a major trip to view the Cup.

Those who are here are rallying around Fay’s underdog challenge, planning to put as many boats and New Zealand flags on the water as possible Wednesday. Southern California Kiwi importers are offering the venison, sparkling water, mussels and other goods at the America’s Cup Village, which officially opens today.

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With hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders following the race back home, Aucklanders Angela and John Botting planned their West Coast vacation around the race, and are expecting to be in a Kiwi support boat when KZ-1 competes with Stars & Stripes Wednesday.

“We’ve definitely got to support our boat, haven’t we?” Angela Botting said.

Related stories, Part III, Pages 1,4,6.


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