Fashion dictates no T-shirts

Dockside: The detritus of America's Cup losers are ubiquitous T-shirt shops. But the stylish Italians, and the clean-cut Prada line still in the race, will have none of that.

February 03, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- A walk along the waterfront here throws a stark and sometimes painful light on the current state of play in sailing's multimillion-dollar poker game called the America's Cup.

At the head of the challenger harbor, the dark blue hull of Team Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes -- now eliminated from the competition to challenge Team New Zealand later this month for sailing's most coveted trophy -- is cradled, forlorn and lifeless. The mast is gone. The crew is gone. Only the T-shirt shop remains open, and there a few tourists pick over discounted shirts emblazoned with the bold star-spangled red, white and blue of Conner's logo.

Next door, the hull of San Francisco's America True, another also-ran, stands outside. No mast. No people. The shed is shut. Only the T-shirt shop is open.

And so it goes all the way down the row: seven more eliminated entries from Waikiki's Abracadabra to the Spanish challenger, the Australians, the French, the Japanese, Young America and finally the Swiss. All gone, except for their T-shirt shops.

Right now, only one of these T-shirts in Auckland's many shops makes any sense. Plain white, it features a tongue-in-cheek dictionary definition in blue: "SAILING," it says, "(obsession) the fine art of getting really wet, really cold, going nowhere really fast, while spending really large amounts of money."

Meanwhile, at the far end of Challenger Alley, side-by-side, stand the compounds of the two surviving challengers of this America's Cup summer: St. Francis Yacht Club's AmericaOne from San Francisco and Italy's Prada Challenge. These two evenly matched boats are currently locked in their best-of-nine challenger final series.

Inevitably, the Americans have their T-shirt shop. When a saleswoman is asked, "How's business?" she waggles her hand. "Nah," she says, "Not exactly booming."

She nods at tourists drifting by and confides, "All they want is a Prada shirt. They'd kill for a Prada shirt. Trouble is, there are no Prada shirts."

And no Prada shop, either.

The Italians, the only challengers with any genuine fashion style, are, as a result, the only ones who refuse to have anything to do with tacky T-shirts with labels. Their entire crew wardrobe, an elegant steely-gray complemented with handsome charcoal accessories, carries only one label, a thin red line -- the famous trademark Linea Rossa -- and the sculptured white letters, PRADA.

The 10-foot walls that surround the enormous Italian compound are all painted stark white, topped with this same red line. The tenders have it, the chase-boats have it and so do the silver-hulled racing yachts. Prada's boat, named Luna Rossa (Red Moon), is a subtle play on the Prada trademark.

Above the compound, an oversized tricolor Italian flag flies side-by-side with the flag of the European Union. The pungent aroma of freshly ground coffee comes wafting across on the cool, early morning air.

One must pass through an electronic-security steel door to get into the white, minimalist interior of what looks like an elegant yacht club: wooden decking, silver aluminum tables and chairs, and a bar laden with croissants, freshly baked biscuits and coffee. There are no sponsors' logos, just clean white space and the burgees of various Italian yacht clubs framed on the walls.

The Italians are about to go sailing on this day, and the balcony overlooking the dock is crowded with excited family and well-wishers. On the hi-fi system comes the unashamedly sentimental sounds of mandolins. A Neapolitan love song serenades their send-off along with whistles and cries, horns and siren blasts from nearby boats.

Next door, the Americans set about their departure in an entirely different style. A cheering squad of men, women and kids in fluorescent green wigs and pompons parades up and down the dockside, firing off pressure-can horns and yelling encouragement.

AmericaOne has 12 battle songs, but today it's the fighting Chumbawumba theme, "I get knocked down, but I get up again."

A kid in a pirate hat yells, "Go get 'em, guys."

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