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Life Beyond the Cup

As competition in the America’s Cup takes a hiatus and the New Zealanders wait to resume their defense of the auld mug, it’s appropriate to wonder what became of the other personalities who not so long ago populated this rarified arena. The American sailors are conspicuous by their absence after five independent syndicates failed to unseat the powerful and resourceful Italian team in the Louis Vuitton Cup series. For these individuals – who collectively represent some of the country’s top racing talent – not advancing to the actual Cup competition has been a humbling disappointment. Many of them have now put what happened in perspective, and it’s a good time to check in with some on this matter. [For more on the lack of activity in Auckland, see Bruce Kirby's article "Another Postponement," posted today]

For Newport, RI-based Ken Read, the principal helmsman aboard Team Dennis Conner’s one-boat effort, life after the Cup means a return to normalcy: "I’m filling the same role I had in the past with North Sails, heading up some special projects on the sales management side." Ken says he’ll be involved with the fledgling National Sailing League this spring, and later this summer will race aboard the new Farr-designed IMS 50 Esmeralda, currently under construction at Eric Goetz Custom Sailboats. He’ll also compete in the Corel 45 Worlds aboard George Andreadis’ Atlanti.

Read allows that he now follows the Cup activity in Auckland "like everyone else, through e-mail and television." But watching from this distant perspective, he says, is tough. "It’s a double-edged sword watching because, on one hand, you’re just kicking yourself thinking ‘with a couple of breaks, that could have been us.’ But also, I just want to see good sailing and have it all be a good reflection on the sport."

"We’ve seen a drifter and then we’ve seen Prada just makes some mistakes that were almost unbelievable."

According to Read, we haven’t seen that so far. "We’ve seen a drifter and then we’ve seen Prada just makes some mistakes that were almost unbelievable. Stuff we hadn’t seen for months. And I don’t just mean Race 2. You can’t even judge that race. It was so bizarre, it was nothing but an aberration.

"In the first race, Italy was in control and though they got tweaked by a right-hand shift, they were right there in the game," he explains. "Then they tried those two bizarre fake tacks. In more than 100 races, nobody tried that [in Auckland]. Fake tacks just don’t work. I think they kind of left their comfort zone and felt like they had to do something new. They should have been patient and attacked downwind."

Why is the Italian team acting so inconsistently? "I don’t know. It could just be pressure, or they could be trying too hard. I think they’re trying to be too creative. From my standpoint, I just sit here and say ‘why didn’t they make these mistakes against us?’" Read says he predicts a 5-2 win for the Kiwis. "I think the Kiwis have been underrated all along." For Race 3, Read wasn’t going to be glued to his TV. "No," he said, "My three-year-old daughter is really developing a thing for ice hockey, so we’re taking her to watch the Providence Bruins [semi-pro hockey team] play.

From Auckland, Dawn Riley, CEO of the San Francisco-based America True syndicate, says she also favors Team New Zealand. "I have been calling 5-0 for TNZ from the start, but now seeing the games they are playing with the wind, etc., I’m not so sure. Either they are afraid or they really don’t care about the international media and spectators who have spent millions to watch a sailboat race."

Riley says that the black boat is sailing "very much like a well-oiled machine. You don’t see the seams between their decision making and their execution. Who knows, maybe it’s because of those hearing aids," she jokes.

Plans for Riley include heading back to California in the near term to initiate the fund-raising for the next go round of the America’s Cup. She says the only question at this point for America True is whether or not the syndicate will enter a team in the Volvo Ocean Race as a means of visibility and training.

In response to Paul Cayard’s post-Louis Vuitton Cup comment about having too many U.S. syndicates chasing a limited pool of available resources in sponsorship and sailing talent, Riley opines: "This is not a valid criticism and it all stems from a statement made in defeat. The only team that was hurt by having sponsorship or talent taken away was America True, and we aren’t complaining." For her, having only one U.S. team is not at all feasible, and thus she’s pushing ahead with America True’s plans for the next challenger elimination series.

Post-Cup life for Young America helmsman Ed Baird has meant moving from in front of the cameras to sitting in front of the tube. Back home in St. Petersburg, FL, Baird says he follows the Cup activity on ESPN2, and by "talking with friends in Auckland and receiving information from the Louis Vuitton Cup office via the Internet." If the racing gets close, Baird says, "we’ll look at it on the Virtual Spectator, but it hasn’t been close yet."

"I knew that Coutts would come on strong and get a good handle on the opponents, and he really did."

He isn’t surprised at the outcome of the first three races: "I expected Team New Zealand to win the first race," he says. "They studied all the challengers’ moves and were definitely ready to throw something different at them. But it was the second race that really followed my expectations. I knew that Coutts would come on strong and get a good handle on the opponents, and he really did. But I was disappointed that something in the water affected the race, and I really hated to see the guys getting hurt, particularly doing something as mundane pulling out a weed stick."

Baird concurs with Riley regarding Cayard’s comment about multiple U.S. syndicates chasing the Cup. "I don’t think it’s a valid criticism that we had too many efforts. If you look at the places around the world where strong challenges come from, they have energetic, involved people behind them. That’s what we sailors have to do is to get that energy behind us. I think there are plenty of resources out there to put more than a few challenges together in our country. You’re asking a lot if you want to limit the number of challengers from a certain country. You’re really restricting certain regions from participating that way.

Is there another America’s Cup bid in the future for Baird? Most likely, he says. In the interim, he hopes his next trip down under will be for a different kind of match racing – the Olympic Soling Class. Baird and his crew Tom Burnham and Dean Brenner are training full time for the U.S. Olympic Soling trials, which begin next month. "We train all day and then we go watch the Cup activity in the evening. It’s a great schedule," he says.

Skipper and Sailing Director of the Hawaii-based Abracadabra syndicate, John Kolius, is also back home. For Kolius, that means La Porte, TX, where he says he keeps up with what’s going on in the Harauki Gulf mostly by way of the internet. "I don’t have a high tolerance for bad commercials," he says.

Kolius says he feels that the two boats in the finals appear to be quite even in the conditions seen so far. Nonetheless, he says: "The Kiwis have been the team to beat for over five years now, and I would not have expected anything less than a perfect performance out of them. They are the ‘national team’ and they’ve been working at this several years longer than Prada." Kolius says another factor is the long battle in the Louis Vuitton Cup series. "That took plenty of steam out of Prada, and I think they may have felt that beating Paul Cayard was the benchmark."

A four-time veteran of America’s Cup efforts, Kolius is unsure about his future participation. "I returned from New Zealand with a lot of pain in my shoulder and arm….After a month’s worth of testing, I finally had surgery on my back last week, so I will certainly not be sailing for a while….Seems like the America’s Cup may not be best for me…must be a karma thing."

Also back home is America One headsail trimmer Moose McClintock, who returned to his work with Contender Sailcloth in Fall River, MA, shortly after his team bowed out in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals. Moose says he’s been following the Cup action on the Internet. "It’s just so easy to do it that way," he says.

McClintock is also a fan of the Kiwi team, though he expected the Italians would have done better at this stage. "The first race they were right there, but those two fake tacks they did on the first beat hurt them a lot. If they had just followed closely around the mark and done a bear-away set, they would have been better off. The boat behind can catch up in a heartbeat downwind, as we found out on America One."

"But if the Italians can get off the line, I think you’ll see something different."

He says he’s also surprised that Race 3 didn’t get started as originally scheduled because of marginal winds. "In the challenger elimination series, the committee would have gotten a race off in those conditions. And the other thing we haven’t seen so far is the committee adjusting the marks of the course, which happened a lot in the Louis Vuitton Cup races."

According to McClintock, the Italians still have a good chance to win, particularly if the breeze remains under 15 knots. "If they get a good start and hit the first shift, it will be hard for the Kiwis to get around them. The Kiwis definitely did a good job of jumping out of the box with speed; they’re really good at that. But if the Italians can get off the line, I think you’ll see something different. They’ve got great coaches and I’m sure they’re sitting down looking at the videos and thinking about all this right now."

As for his own sailing, McClintock says he might dust off his Laser this winter, but he probably won’t get back behind the primaries on a big boat until the Farr 40 Worlds this summer. "It was a long five months down there, and I’m really looking forward to spending some time with my family."

And what about America One? "All the sponsors have said to Paul [Cayard], ‘keep it going, this is a good program.’ So if the Kiwis win, we’ll just lock the boats up in the shed and go back down there next winter and start all over again."

Dan Dickison is offline  
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