Riley puts title on the line, keeps eye on bigger prize

Top women competing in Santa Maria Cup


June 03, 2000|By Gilbert Lewthwaite | Gilbert Lewthwaite,SUN STAFF

America's Cup skipper Dawn Riley is attempting to defend her title in the Boat U.S. Santa Maria Cup - the premier match-racing yacht competition for women in the United States - against some of the world's best-known female sailors.

With the Eastport Yacht Club as host, this week's five-day Chesapeake Bay event has attracted 12 sailing stars, including top-ranked Shirley Robertson from Britain, who came in second to Riley last year, and Rhode Island's Betsy Alison, the only five-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and three-time U.S. women's national sailing champion.

"I think the competition is a little more intense this year," said Jeff Borland, organizer of the 10th Santa Maria Cup.

The regatta, which started Wednesday and ends tomorrow, involves two one-on-one round-robins with each four-woman crew sailing a J-22 against the other teams, a four-boat semifinal, and a sail-off between the two fastest racers.

Although it's a small-boat race, Riley, a two-time winner of the cup - last year and in 1992 - is using the regatta to hone her skills for sailing an 80-footer in the next America's Cup regatta in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2003.

"What we are doing here is just learning," Riley said, "although winning is always nice."

She skippered America True in the challenger series for this year's America's Cup, when Team New Zealand successfully defended sailing's most prestigious trophy.

The next America's Cup campaign will be her fourth. She was team captain of America3 in 1995 and a crew member for the same syndicate when it won the cup in 1992.

When not racing, Riley, of San Francisco, devotes much of her time to raising the $30 million-$35 million needed for her effort to win the America's Cup.

"It's money, money, money," she said. "That's the key right now. But it's going pretty well."

She expects to retain as many as 23 of the 28-member team she took to New Zealand for the last Louis Vuitton Cup, the elimination event for America's Cup challengers.

Italy's Prada syndicate won the right to challenge Team New Zealand this year, but was given a 5-0 drubbing by the Kiwis.

She is on target to raise $5 million by July 1 and $10 million by year's end.

The $5 million would enable her to launch the design effort, which is expected to use the Kiwis' radical boat, Black Magic, as its starting point. The $10 million would let her start building the first of the two boats she wants for her campaign.

Team New Zealand surprised the sailing world this year with a boat that sported a new bow line, a refined keel, and an innovative rig. Greeted initially with disdain, if not derision, by other designers, it proved unbeatable.

Like most international sailors, she was surprised by the big-bucks departure of Kiwi skipper Russell Coutts and some of the key crew members of Team New Zealand to a Swiss-Italian syndicate for the next America's Cup.

It has reshuffled the pack, breaking up a team whose impressive cohesion and discipline were seen as major factors in its ability to first win, then defend the America's Cup.

"I see it as opportunity," Riley said. "What it is, is turmoil. One of the huge strengths of the Kiwis between 1995 and 1999 was that they had no turmoil. The only thing for them was - how do we win?"

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