U.S. fell short in funding race, too

Cup finals are set without American boat for one reason: money

February 07, 2000|By Bruce Stannard | Bruce Stannard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Whenever anyone speaks seriously about the America's Cup, attention turns to the one ingredient that invariably determines the outcome: money.

This year, 11 would-be Cup challengers from seven nations spent $217 million on their Cup campaigns. It therefore came as no surprise that the nail-biting, best-of-nine challenger finals were fought between the two syndicates that outspent all the others.

The ultimate triumph of Italy's Prada Challenge, which defeated AmericaOne yesterday in the ninth race to become the Cup challenger, was the triumph of money over experience.

Paul Cayard and his crew aboard AmericaOne took Italian skipper Francesco de Angelis, a newcomer to America's Cup competition, to school in the basics of close-in, match-racing tactics. Even though AmericaOne's aggressiveness on the course cost it two races because of penalty turns, it was AmericaOne's experience that forced the series to the deciding ninth race.

And for the first time in the 150-year history of the America's Cup, there will be no U.S. boat racing for the "Auld Mug."

The Americans' one shortfall? Money.

The Italians are the first to acknowledge it. They officially say they spent $55 million. The AmericaOne syndicate could muster only $22 million in cash, plus donations in kind from corporate America.

The spending disparity was essential, because the relatively inexperienced Italians had to start at the beginning, learning from mistakes that were painful and costly.

"Prada left no stone unturned," Cayard said after yesterday's race. "They covered all the bases. They did that early, and that was key. We did it a different way. We came close to having a similar result, but close doesn't count in this game. There is no second. So, for the first time in a long time, I'm going to be a spectator at the America's Cup."

No one is prepared to say how much the Italians spent on design alone, but educated guesses put it as high as $30 million.

Their design team, which included luminaries such as Argentine German Frers, Californian Doug Petersen and New Zealander David Eagan, spent two years perfecting the lines of two new boats.

In addition to an undisclosed number of three-dimensional computer models, they built no fewer than 11 one-third scale models and subjected each to exhaustive testing in the Italian navy's sophisticated towing tank in Rome.

AmericaOne, by contrast, built no test models. Funding constraints meant AmericaOne's chief designer, Bruce Nelson, worked entirely with computer simulation and had nothing to prove his design theories until his boats with their complex keels and appendages were eventually built.

The Italians were funded by the fortune of fashion industry leader Patrizio Bertelli. So great was Bertelli's desire to win that the Prada team was given virtually whatever it wanted.

While AmericaOne placed its campaign in jeopardy by building just two racing masts (one broke, and the spare was used for most of the challenger finals), the Italians built eight masts worth half a million dollars apiece.

When the Italians wanted the super lightweight and extremely strong Cuben fiber sailcloth for their spinnakers, they went out and cornered the market, buying up the entire stock and the manufacturer's forward production until March -- after the completion of America's Cup racing. AmericaOne blew out nine spinnakers during Cup competition; Prada blew out none.

Armed with Bertelli's blank check, the Italians hired some of the best sailors in the world, including several Americans. They secured the coaching services of one of the world's top match-racing skippers, American Rod Davis. They also hired one of the world's best bowmen -- a key member of a racing boat's crew -- American Steve Erickson, who at the time was sailing with Cayard in the Whitbread Round the World Race.

Ask the AmericaOne crew to name the essential difference between itself and Prada, and the members invariably point to being "not fully funded."

The burden of fund-raising, as well as team management and handling the helm, placed enormous strains on AmericaOne's Cayard. At the news conference yesterday after the final race, Cayard looked close to exhaustion. But he immediately identified the essential differences between the campaigns: "Time and money."

"It's no secret," he said, "that this is all about money. Dennis Conner had half as much money [as AmericaOne], so he lasted half as long [with Stars & Stripes]. Just look at all the results. It is not an insignificant coincidence, the amount of money and time spent on these campaigns."

Cayard said he was not as good a sailor in this America's Cup campaign as he was with Young America in 1995, because he spent so much time raising funds, which diverted his focus from his critical job as helmsman.

"Prada is the model," he said. "They spent a hundred million bucks. They started their campaign three years before the event. There's a lesson there for anyone seriously interested in being part of this."

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