Protocol Sleuthing in the America's Cup - SailNet Community

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Old 07-31-1999
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Micca Hutchins is on a distinguished road
Protocol Sleuthing in the America's Cup

Paranoia has always been a powerful ploy in the America's Cup. You can bet that the leaders of big R-and-D campaigns of this hypercompetitive group are sweating profusely now knowing that there is still enough time for their arch-rivals to apply those lost boatspeed secrets of their boats in time for the start of the eliminations in October. In recent past America's Cups, excessive distrust has gone hand in hand with campaign derailment, as focus slips from honing the boat and team to fighting off phantom spy-dogs scratching at the door.

America's Cup winner and a trickster par excellence, Bill Koch knows the game all too well. In 1992, the year of his successful defense and then new to America's Cup racing, Koch leveled his best gameplan on the unsuspecting sailors, who in relative terms were green to his level of covert gameplaying. (In the business world Koch is well known for his fine art of play, evidenced recently with the long ongoing family litigation in which he hired ex-journalists to pose as reporters in court.) As guilelessly retold in Koch's book of winning the Cup, To the Third Power: The Inside Story of Bill Koch's Winning Strategies for The America's Cup, written by Paul C. Larsen (Tilbury House), "Koch wouldn't resist turning up the heat." His spy boat Guzzini haunted the fleet, retells Larsen, "one day a deck hand on Guzzini spotted, through long-range binoculars, Dennis Conner's operations chief playing computer poker. He zoomed in on the lay-out of the cards, then called up Conner's tender on the radio to advise Bill Trenkle: 'Keep the King, Discard the Jack.' "

In Larsen's description, word that Koch had "tapped into the electronic systems of all his competitors" quickly spread among the syndicates, and it grew to a major Cup spying transgression. Paul Cayard, the skipper of Raul Gardini's Italian challenge, became so incensed, he threatened to protest the acts of the villainous Koch under Rule 75, the fair sailing rule, and as well, to bring criminal charges against him.

Now appoggiatura of America's Cup sailing, spying reports have become so common and the public grown so weary of them that when Team New Zealand recently claimed New York Yacht Club had been spying, they came off looking like whiners, hardly untoward victims. Young America's Director of Public Relations, Jane Eagleson shot back, "This is not the only instance of TNZ complaining through the local press about various teams' reconnaissance and scouting activities. Rules on intelligence gathering are contained in the Protocol … 'challenger's permitted acts include, but are not limited to: The visual observation, photography and video taping of another syndicate's yacht from a surface vessel operated in a safe manner, provided the observations are made from a distance of at least 200 metres (650 feet)' …The NYYC/Young America Challenge is adhering to these rules as outlined in Article 15."

That's right. Identify them for what they are, legal seaborne sleuths in the fine art of the Protocol writers' "Reconnaissance" of Article 15. But in reviewing this document, I wondered if these Portocol-ists had perhaps spent one too many long, winter night watching James Bond films, or even if they had been overexposed to the U.S. Special Prosecutor's ways. For there it was, the last item under the "Specifically prohibited" and it read: "(l) the use of discarded waste material from syndicate compounds or any other source [is prohibited]."

What were the writers thinking, I asked myself, and then a scene began to unfold in my imagination. It went like this.

"Deep Six" was sitting at HQ, the popular Cup crew bar at the head of Auckland's Westhaven marina, waiting for the Auckland City worker to arrive. The garbage collector finally walked in and without even accepting the offer of a beer, immediately signaled him to step outside the back, where he passed Deep Six a heavy 4-mill-thick black plastic garbage bag. Deep Six reached into the right deep, fleece-lined pocket of his Musto jacket and pulled out enough New Zealand dollars to buy out the remains of Moet's1999 millennial vintage cuvee. And the deal was done. He threw the bag into the trunk of his car and rushed back to the compound, dragged the big bag into his office and then locked the door.

The contents of heavy bag were perfunctorily dumped on the floor. It was smelly, as old jars of Vegimite, half-eaten fish sandwiches and smashed cans of Steinlager tumbled out. Lacing it all was a patina of carbon fiber strands. Undeterred, Deep Six jammed his hands into the mound, tossing aside pairs of latex gloves, wisps of kevlar and even a well-worn copy of To the Third Power: The Inside Story of Bill Koch's Winning Strategies for the America's Cup till they glanced against something solid. He grabbed it, extricating an odd mass, which he then set on his desk. Deep Six pondered the red, four-inch hunk for several minutes before he realized the distinctive pungent smell now filling the room was coming from this amorphous molten blob in front of him. He leaned over and sniffed, "hmm … cayenne pepper," he said to himself. "What could this be?"

He went to his desk and hit a speed-dial button on his phone, a call to Koch's agent for dirty tricks in Kansas. But he wasn't there, so in desperation he called me. After he described the red mass to me at length, I told him what he had there. This was probably leftover goop from what was some sort of hull application, a secret friction-reduction agent, I figured. The high-potency cayenne pepper coating on the hull would repel organisms and fish life.

"In the teeming Hauraki Gulf, where the America's Cup racing will be, this sort of thing could be more useful that one might imagine. As Team New Zealand's hull pierces through the water, the presence of the offensive cayenne pepper will make any and all sea life literally flee from the area. Do you realize this means far less resistance as the hull effortlessly slips through the water ... water that is faster, in a sense. This is brilliant! As Dennis Conner says, in the America's Cup it takes but two-tenths of one knot extra speed to win. This would surely create that two-tenths."

"You've got to keep this secret. After all, this is section "l" of Article 15. You never heard this from me, right?"

My reverie over, I returned to the Young America response, "Observation on the water is akin to scouting in other major sports and is an acknowledged part of learning about the competition … Over the next eight months all the Cup competitors will be living, training and testing in close proximity in Auckland. Tensions may run high at times. But direct dialogue between competitors is the best way to resolve issues and present a better America's Cup to our fans," Eagleson retorted.

That a way, Jane! What did I know.

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