Koch has winning formula that's as light as a feather America3 skipper needs a wave of luck

May 08, 1992|By Newsday

SAN DIEGO -- Bill Koch, skipper of America3, the defender in the best-of-seven America's Cup match that begins tomorrow against Italy's Il Moro di Venezia, says he believes technology will rule the waves.

"Winning is 55 percent technology, 35 percent sailing skill and 10 percent luck," he said. "And our technology is better than the Italian technology."

"I think Koch has got the numbers right," said Robert Hopkins, an American who is technical coordinator for Il Moro di Venezia and the boat's navigator. "He's proud of his technology, and we're proud of ours."

Koch, 52, has a doctorate in chemical engineering from MIT and a fortune estimated at $650 million. He has spent $20 million -- a third of the America3 syndicate's $60 million -- to help finance his syndicate's four-boat defense campaign.

Much of the money has been spent on technology. America3's design team of naval architects and aerospace engineers has worked for two years testing keels, rudders and underwater hull shapes that Koch says he hopes will give him an edge. The team also developed a new sailcloth for America3 using liquid crystal fibers.

The designers worked through the defenders' finals, in which America3 defeated Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes, 7-4, and installed a new keel and rudder on the boat this week.

The final exam for America3's new underwater configuration will be the match with Il Moro. Under the rules, neither side may make major changes to their boats once the races have begun.

In the sailing skills department, America3 has Buddy Melges, 62, a Zenda, Wis., sailmaker and Olympic gold medalist, as primary helmsman and an experienced crew of three dozen professional sailors.

Melges, who was skipper of Heart of America, the Chicago Yacht Club's challenger in the 1987 Cup races in Australia, in turn recruited Dave Dellenbaugh, 38, of Easton, Conn., who was with him in Australia, as America3's tactician and starting-line helmsman.

Koch, who appointed himself skipper and relief helmsman, doesn't pretend to be in the same class with Melges and Dellenbaugh and generally steers the boat only on the Z-legs -- the three reaching legs of the eight-leg Cup course.

To complete the final 10 percent of Koch's formula for winning, America3 has a lucky crow feather given by a medicine man from the Kanza tribe of Indians in Koch's home state of Kansas.

But Koch thinks something is missing: the natives of San Diego are not friendly to him and his crew.

"We see people on the spectator boats making gestures at us with their hands all the time," he said recently, "and we've heard some of the things they've shouted at us. Don't they know that I'm the only person who can keep the Cup in San Diego?"

Koch complained during the finals that the club's race committee was prejudiced toward Conner because it started races before the wind direction had settled down and because the windward legs were skewed to favor Conner's slower boat.

He also accused the club of refusing to serve one of his crew members who was wearing a team shirt, even though the club had issued guest cards to all members of both defense crews.

"I'm not whining. I'm just stating the facts," Koch said when he made the charges. He followed up with a harsh letter of complaint to the America's Cup Organizing Committee, which is managing the races for the club.

Money can't buy happiness.

Facts and figures

What: The 1992 America's Cup, a best-of-seven match-racing series between a foreign challenger (Italy) against a U.S. defender (America3)

Where: On the Pacific Ocean, off San Diego

When: Tomorrow, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and May 16, 17 and 19, if the series goes seven races

TV: Tomorrow's Race 1 will be on ABC. The rest of the Cup series will be on ESPN. Race starts are scheduled for 3 p.m.

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