Koch taxes exception to America's Cup racing's bottom line

AMERICA'S CUP NOTES

May 10, 1992|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- For Bill Koch, the Kansan who holds a handful of degrees from MIT and built a fortune by developing alternative energy, the numbers are starting to add up.

And the head of the defending syndicate in the America's Cup is finding that he doesn't like the bottom line -- which is $65 million, give or take a million.

"The amount of money spent on this thing is absurd, obscene and offensive," said Koch, who entered the America's Cup picture a couple of years ago planning to spend $20 million, including a $5 million fund for unexpected expenses.

The four International America's Cup Class boats his America3 syndicate has built cost $5 million each. But it cost another $40 million to compete.

The challenging Italian syndicate, Il Moro di Venezia, has spent even more. The Japanese, who did not even make the defender finals, spent upward of $50 million. Even the shoestring challenges campaigning one boat spent at least $15 million.

From an economic standpoint, Koch would like to change the America's Cup format and move to 50-footers rather than the high-tech, 75-foot IACC boats.

Campaigning a 50-footer, Koch figures, would cost only $5 million to $10 million.

"However, there has been about $500 million or $600 million invested in this event, and of that about $200 million has been invested in the boats and the technology," Koch said. "So it is hard to just throw that down the drain.

"These boats have no other use now except for an America's Cup event. I don't think anyone wants to cruise in them."

So, Koch has come up with a series of suggestions for the San Diego Yacht Club, host for the America's Cup, to cut costs in the 1995 regatta.

"The first is to eliminate the absurd rule on the cure temperature on carbon fiber, which makes you go to an exotic, non-commercial grade of carbon fiber," Koch said. "That would significantly reduce the cost."

The IACC boats make extensive use of lightweight, high-strength carbon fiber in hulls and masts.

"Another is to penalize stability," Koch said, "so that you don't push the structural limits of the carbon fiber to make these boats so fragile that they fall apart and break, because the maintenance cost is far greater than the sailing cost of these boats."

Koch also would do away with the reaching, cross-wind legs on (( the America's Cup course, which are new this year.

"They are nothing more than a parade and a sailmaker's dream," Koch said, "because you need a whole set of specialized sails for the reaching legs that you otherwise wouldn't use on the race course."

Koch also would reduce spinnaker poles to stimulate gybing duels and make them easier to handle and harder to break.

Remember 1983 in Newport, R.I.? Australia II and the privacy skirts that were used to hide its revolutionary winged keel?

These days, it wouldn't be an America's Cup without the skirts and the elaborate security measures syndicates take to protect the finer points of the underbodies of their cup boats.

Koch would do away with all the security and secrecy.

"The reason for that is that you spend a fortune on not only trying to protect your secrecy, but also in trying to find out what everybody else is doing," Koch said. "And although that adds a lot of intrigue and makes amusing stories for reporters to write about -- it would be much more practical to eliminate all that."

Approximately 5 percent of America3's $65 million budget has been spent on security and spy missions.

Koch also would like to see all the challengers and defenders in a central compound to centralize the tourist dollar.

* At 11:50 a.m. yesterday, the race organizers delayed the start of Race 1 while a portion of the race course was cleared of spectator boats. Because the breeze was southerly, the spectator fleet, which numbered in the hundreds, was required to stand north of the southern tip of Point Loma. The race was scheduled to start at 12:05 p.m. and got off at 12:25 p.m. The spectator fleet was estimated to be between 500 and 600 boats.

* America3 chose not to fill the 17th crew berth allowed for an owner's representative and sailed with a required minimum crew of 16. Il Moro, however, carried the 17th man, Steve Erickson, who is Il Moro skipper Paul Cayard's crew in the Star class.

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