Once again, Cup crews cranking up

On The Outdoors

September 19, 1999|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

In a month, the fine, multimillion-dollar madness that is the challenge for the America's Cup begins in the waters off Auckland, New Zealand, and about five months later one of perhaps a dozen teams will walk off with an ugly Victorian ewer and bragging rights for the next four years.

The Louis Vuitton Cup, a series of three round-robins, semifinals and final, will determine which of 13 challengers still officially in the hunt gets to race against Team New Zealand in the America's Cup series beginning Feb. 19.

"With 13 entrants, we match the record number of challengers that competed in the 1987 Louis Vuitton Cup held in Fremantle [Australia]," said Dyer Jones, president of the America's Cup Challengers Association. "That was an outstanding event. This one promises to be even more spectacular."

Team New Zealand won the last America's Cup, sailed off San Diego in 1995, and now the best of the world's yacht racers are gathering on the edges of Hauraki Gulf for a chance to take it elsewhere.

However, not all of the 13 remaining challenge syndicates are expected to make it to the starting line on Oct. 18. The Russian challenge, Age of Russia (St. Petersburg) and Le Defi Sud (France) are doubtful because of money problems.

The other 11 challenge syndicates are investing a total of nearly $250 million in their campaigns against Team New Zealand, the lone defense syndicate.

Bruno Trouble, who has been involved with America's Cup racing since the French challenges of the 1970s, said the challengers as a group are impressive.

But, he said, probably three or four boats will be ahead of the rest of the pack.

"But I don't know which ones," Trouble said. "They're all new-generation boats."

The defense

Team New Zealand, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron: Syndicate head Sir Peter Blake has a two-boat training program and skipper Russell Coutts, perhaps the best and coolest match-racer in the world. Blake is the backbone of this group, and two against the multitude are his kind of odds.

The U.S. challengers

Abracadabra 2000 (Aloha Racing), Waikiki Yacht Club: Syndicate head Dr. James Andrews has budgeted $15 million to $20 million and has world champion John Kolius aboard as skipper. But this is, perhaps, only the fourth best of the U.S. groups.

AmericaOne, St. Francis YC (San Francisco): Paul Cayard seems to have won everything he has tried lately -- except for the last America's Cup. But he has a $32 million budget and John Kostecki as tactician and Bruce Nelson as his chief designer. This is probably the best of the U.S. groups.

America True, San Francisco Yacht Club: Dawn Riley is the first woman to head a cup syndicate and has announced a $21 million budget. First to challenge in New Zealand, but perhaps last among the U.S. groups.

Team Dennis Conner, San Diego, Cortez Racing Association: Dennis Conner was the losing skipper in 1983 and 1995, and the winner in the cups in between, including 1987. The boat again will be named Stars and Stripes, and Ken Read is an excellent skipper. But the budget is comparatively small -- $12 million to $15 million. They might have the magic to bring off a finish in the semifinals.

Young America, New York Yacht Club: In the hunt for the first time since 1987, the NYYC is the challenger of record and the syndicate has budgeted $40 million. Money, design, great sailors and leadership might add up to a successful challenge.

Other challengers

Australian Challenge, Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (Sydney): Syd Fischer returns as syndicate head, with James Spithill at the helm. Fischer is an old hand at trying and losing; Spithill is the youngest skipper in the regatta.

Le Defi Sud (France): Perhaps won't even make the starting line, and unlikely to be a factor if the syndicate does.

Le Defi Bouygues (France): Bertrand Pace, a strong French match-racer, is the skipper, Marcel van Triest is the navigator and the syndicate has a budget of $10 million -- but only four boats can make the semifinals, and this likely isn't one of them.

Nippon Challenge (Gamagori, Japan): Skipper Peter Gilmour is always at or near the top of the world match-racing standings and his team won the worlds in 1997 and 1998. Japan made the semifinals last time around, and could make the final four this time.

Prada Challenge (Punta Ala, Italy): Italy, in the cup for the first time since Paul Cayard came close with Il Moro in 1992, has a $50 million budget and designer Doug Peterson. If there is to be a non-U.S. boat in the finals, this could be it.

Age of Russia Challenge (St. Petersburg): Probably a non-factor, even if it makes the starting line Oct. 18.

Spanish Challenge (Madrid and Valencia, Spain): This is a team that might pull off some surprises in the round-robins, but not even a $20 million budget will buy the way into the semifinals.

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