Cayard: Funding is no Cup breeze

Defeated American cites cash distractions

February 21, 2000|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Paul Cayard, the sailor thought most likely to bring the America's Cup back to its long-standing home in the United States, has a reasoned view of his failure to do so.

He was, he says, distracted from the ultimate goal of reaching the finishing line first by the more immediate challenge of making sure he had enough money even to get to the starting line.

For much of the past three years he was focusing on fund-raising for AmericaOne, one of five U.S. boats defeated in the Louis Vuitton challenger series here for the right to challenge the New Zealanders for the America's Cup.

For nine months he was sailing the Swedish boat EF Language to victory in the 32,000-mile Whitbread Round The World race. Only when he won that in May 1998 did the big corporate sponsors -- Hewlett-Packard, Ford and United Technologies -- step forward.

"If I hadn't won the Whitbread, I probably would not have made it to the start line here," he said during an interview in the America- One headquarters here yesterday.

In its 149-year history, the America's Cup, attracting the likes of tea tycoon Thomas Lipton a century ago, French ballpoint Baron Michel Bich 50 years ago, and more recently California real estate millionaire Dennis Conner, has never been cheap. And the 30th competition, now under way in the Hauraki Gulf, is the most expensive of all.

With Italy's $1.3 billion-a-year Prada fashion house willing to spend more than $50 million to be first in the challenger fleet, Cayard, a professional skipper who also acted as chief executive of his AmericaOne campaign, found himself under-funded long before he came under the starter gun in a race where money matters more than almost anything.

In the early stages of the campaign, he could not even promise the team members he most wanted that he would be able to pay them. As family men with their own priorities, several transferred their services to the well-heeled Italian team.

Cayard said he couldn't afford the $2 million boat designer Doug Peterson wanted upfront, but Prada could. He also lost sailing coaches Rod Davis and Steve Erickson, and business operations manager Laurent Esquier to the Italian team.

"They probably didn't think we would make it, and there we were racing them in the [challenger] finals," he said. "They knew Prada was going to be in the America's Cup and they knew Prada was going to be able to pay them for three years. I couldn't give them that kind of security in 1997."

Cayard eventually raised $30 million, but then found himself running out of time rather than cash. His second boat was the last to arrive in New Zealand in November.

"It would have been nicer to have it earlier," he said. "But we didn't have the money."

Cayard lost the finals of the nine-race challengers' Louis Vuitton Cup to the Italians after leading them 4-3 in the first-to-five competition.

In the fourth race, which the Italians were awarded to take a 3-1 lead, Cayard had crossed the line first but lost the victory on what he still calls a "bad" penalty call. Without the penalty it would have been 2-2, and Cayard, who went on to win the next three races, would have wrapped up the berth in the finals in the seventh.

As it was, the Italians took the final two races to win 5-4, earning the right to sail against the Kiwis for the America's Cup.

In the 30 races before the finals, AmericaOne was penalized once. In the finals, it was penalized seven times in nine races.

"I wasn't on my best game," Cayard conceded. "The truth is the two teams were pretty darned equal. We raced 14 times over the America's Cup season, and the score was 7-7. There was not a lot between the boats."

When he started on his latest quest, Cayard had already participated in five America's Cup campaigns. Interestingly he was skipper of the Italian boat Il Moro di Venezia, which lost to America3 in 1992, and helmsman aboard Young America, which lost to New Zealand's Black Magic in 1995.

Now that the Kiwis are defending the cup -- or "auld mug," as it is known in sailing circles -- against the free-spending, swift-sailing Italians, Cayard can only watch.

What he saw in yesterday's first of nine races convinces him that the Kiwis have a boat fast enough to make them favorites in this year's competition for the trophy of the prestigious competition, which was hosted by the New York Yacht Club from 1851 to 1983, when Australia II won it.

In pre-race interviews Cayard was careful not to endorse the conventional wisdom that the Kiwi boat's smaller sail area and greater wetted surface would enhance its heavy weather stability at the cost of its light air speed.

On the 18.5-mile course yesterday, Black Magic outpaced Luna Rossa on both upwind tacks and downwind runs to finish a convincing 1 minute, 17 seconds ahead in southwesterly winds in the 10-12 knot range.

Cayard cautions that one race does not a regatta make, adding that Black Magic still has to be tested in sterner weather.

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