For Riley, racing now takes a back seat


June 06, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

After the first round robin in the Santa Maria Cup women's match racing championships in Annapolis last week, Dawn Riley had a 7-4 record and was wondering a bit about where the magic had gone.

After all, she had won this championship in 1992 and had been among the best in the world, when women's match racing was in its infancy.

"Sixth place, middle of the pack," said Riley, as she looked over the standings. "When you don't race regularly, it really shows."

Even though the magic appeared to be back after she won 10 of 11 races in the second round to make the semifinals, the girl who grew up racing on Lake St. Clair near Detroit spends more time racing through airports than sailing the match-racing circuit.

These days Riley is CEO and team captain of America True, a U.S. challenge team hoping to win the America's Cup from New Zealand -- the only female ever to head an America's Cup syndicate.

"I do travel a lot, yes," she said. "Two weeks at a time on the road isn't unusual, and that includes a lot of red-eye flights coming East. It can be rough.

"But it was the next logical step, everything considered."

Riley has been hammering heavily on the walls of men's racing for a decade, sailing in numerable big boat series, two Whitbread Round the World Races and a pair of America's Cups, including the all-female America3 team in 1995.

America True, a $28 million, co-ed campaign challenging through the San Francisco Yacht Club, might be the sledge that breaks down the wall.

Riley's syndicate was the first challenger to train in New Zealand waters and the first to launch a new International America's Cup Class racer, which was dedicated recently and is being shipped to Auckland.

America True was designed by Phil Kiako, whose America's Cup experience includes the radical, fore-and-aft rudder design sailed by the late Tom Blackaller in the 1987 challenge series in Australia.

America True also has drawn heavily on the expertise of sailors familiar with the waters of Hauraki Gulf, where the challenger elimination series will begin Oct. 18.

While Riley will sail aboard America True, the helmsman will be John Cutler, a New Zealand native who was the skipper for the Nippon challenge in 1995 and is a three-time world match-racing champion.

Cutler, the team's sailing director, is considered an expert on the weather and sailing conditions in Hauraki Gulf.

Leslie Egnot, tactician on the 1995 all-women's team, fills a similar role for America True. Egnot, too, has extensive sailing experience in New Zealand waters.

"When you start to build a team, it's 90 percent people you have sailed with before," said Riley, who oversees 36 team members, including two sailing crews, designers, sailmakers and a few people to raise and keep track of the money.

"But it's hard to know how people will work in on paper. You have to work and sail together and see if all the parts fit."

In preparation for the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series, America True is training two crews. One will sail the trial horse, Tag Heur, which was sailed by Chris Dickson in the challenger series during the 1995 America's Cup. The other will sail the new boat while fine-tuning it in New Zealand.

But with a possibility of having two races per day in the challenge series for the first time, syndicates with capable back-ups could have a decided advantage.

"You want to have duplicates, back-ups who are versatile in many positions," said Liz Baylis, who works the pit and runners on America True, and was in Annapolis as part of Riley's Santa Maria crew.

"If there are two races per day, obviously you'd want fresh grinders [crew that work the heavy winches that control sail trim] to come aboard for the second race."

But in America's Cup camps, often there are enormous egos to deal with, rock star sailors to soothe, coddle and pamper.

Not in the America True camp, thank you.

"There are some camps that have prima donnas," said Baylis. "In our camp, you can't leave the complex until everybody is done."

Riley said the strict team approach is largely the result of two America3 campaigns under Kansas energy tycoon Bill Koch, whose team won the cup in 1992 and came close to winning the defender berth with the all-women's Proud Mary team in 1995.

"Under Bill, the team was everything. There were no hidden agendas, no personal gains," said Riley, who was the captain of the women's team. "Everything was equal -- even the full-time janitor got the same foul weather gear as the sailing crews.

"We're taking the same approach, although we don't have Bill Koch's money to spend this time."

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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