America’s Cup Past & Future, part 3

The conclusion of a St. Francis YC panel discussion with Olin Stephens, Halsey Herreshoff, Bill Ficker, Gary Jobson and Jory Hinman

Enersen: It is 10 days from now isn’t it? We talked a little bit about the boats. I’m certainly interested in the change of the culture of the event as far as the people on the boats go. When we were all actively involved in it, it tended to be distinguished gentlemen, yachtsmen and their college-aged sons and their friends and a few hot shot college sailors. Gary, could you talk a little bit about the evolution of the personnel and what it is like to be part of a crew these days.Jobson : When I think back to the days of Courageous and all the pay that we received aboard that boat, I think I still have both T-shirts that Turner gave us and a chair at the end of the thing. I get phone calls from lots of perspective crew and the conversation often goes like this, “Well I’ve been offered $25,000 a month to trim the jib, plus my expenses and medical stuff and housing, but I’m not sure it is enough.” I’ll say, “Well how much did you earn last year?” “Oh I worked in a sail loft and made about $48,000.” “That’s a pretty good pay increase I think I’d go ahead and take and not argue any further.” So there is a lot of concern about how much money is being made. The teams, in my view, are disappointed that the concept of international free agency has come through the America’s Cup and if you read the Deed of Gift, it talks about a friendly competition between foreign countries and I like the idea that the American boat has all Americans on it and the Italian boat has all Italians and the New Zealand boat has all New Zealanders. But the New Zealand boat is designed by an American, Clay Oliver, from Annapolis, Md., and class of ’73 at the Naval Academy and Larry Ellison has non-Americans in his afterguard and so does One World and I don’t like that. What I like is something I see with Stars & Stripes, an all-American crew on the American boat named Stars & Stripes. I did get to spend a little time back in June sailing with Stars & Stripes. The culture is fascinating aboard that particular boat. Everybody gets along well. Everybody’s got well-defined goals and well-defined jobs. As a result, they seem to be working as a cohesive unit. And when you have a real trauma that happened with the boat, I don’t know if it got beached or sunk or swamped or what the proper word was, Jory, but when the boat went down, they pulled together pretty well. Maybe that good synergy of that crew will relate itself into performance. I think there is a lot of emphasis on how much is being earned and people forget about the ultimate goal that is it really about winning and we’ll see if that translates itself. Will the teams that spent the most money win? Russell Coutts observed in an article I have coming up in Sailing World, for me he made this comment that in the last four America’s Cups the team that spent the most money did not end up winning. Four times in a row. That kind of says something that being efficient is something that pays dividends and we’ll see if that follows suit this particular time around.Enersen: Well, we’re getting to this time around. As we said, in nine or 10 days the first gun goes off and we’ll begin to see who can do what to whom. I suppose one of the things people are interested in is what the predictions of this group might be? Knowing what we know or don’t know at this stage of the game, I’d like each of you to go out on a limb and talk a little bit about who you think might be the possessor of the old mug come February something 2003 or March 1 there abouts? Halsey, do you have any views on that?Herreshoff: Well, I’m probably not the best one to answer this question because while I know a lot of the players I’m not on the scene every day. But I have a prediction that might surprise some of you. I think I’ve seen three groups that look very strong out of the pack. They are not the ones spending the most money. I think the three strongest groups are Alinghi in Switzerland with some very good boats apparently built early and Russell Coutts . . . And I think another very strong group is going to be Stars & Stripes with such a great group of sailors and tremendous urge to win and hopefully the boats go fast. And then never discount the New Zealanders. They lost Russell Coutts, but they got Barker, who is a fine sailor and they may be weaker in other areas, a lot of their people have left and gone to Alinghi, but they are going to be strong, also. So let’s look for a terrific final for Louis Vuitton between NYYC Stars & Stripes and Switzerland’s Alinghi. And then a very, very close America’s Cup match, maybe it won’t be as one-sided as most of them have been. Let’s look for one of those challengers to win the Cup and bring it to Newport or New York or to the Mediterranean.Enersen: Olin, have you formed any impressions at this point?Stephens: I really haven’t. I only know what I read in various newspapers and the scuttlebutt and there’s not much technical data about the boats that I’ve seen. I can only go along with a lot of where people like Halsey . . . but that’s the only thing I really have to guide me. But I hope I can just speak out a moment on the subject that was touched on before. I just want to second with all the strength I can what was said about the boats having their nationals. I just think they should be a solid wall to keep people on the boats of their countries and just feel that is the big thing that the Cup needs today and would solve a lot of the troubles and a lot of the squabbles, and lot of the legal stuff that goes on, what wouldn’t really come up if the people are all representing their own country and I think that’s important.Enersen: To follow up, would that include the design staff?Stephens: Absolutely.Enersen: Bill, do you have any view of who is going to do what to whom?Ficker: First of all, I would like to echo what both Olin and Gary said. I really am a flag waver and I think this nationality thing is terribly important. I think it should be nation against nation. We were very proud to be representing the United States and I think that’s what’s made the America’s Cup so very special over the years because it was the British and [then] by God, the upstart Yanks that beat them in yachting. I think it is important for the history. Also, I’m not against professionalism, but I’m a little disappointed in the fact that the boats are all manned by professionals now and Gary hit on the “paid” of the people manning the boats. My crew was 22 years old on average. And if you crank in my age, which was 42, we averaged 24 years old. I really think that these young men had a great opportunity to sail in the America’s Cup and represent their nation. And the way things are going now when my grandson, who is 10, will never have an opportunity to experience what my crew and I did if it goes the way it is going now unless he becomes a professional yacht racer. And that isn’t in my sights, that’s what he’d do with the rest of his life. So I hope it goes not back because times change and the boats change and attitudes. But I hope there can be some meeting of the grounds there. Also, we all know there are going to be some strong challenges, certainly with past winners of the Cup sailing for other countries and with Peter Holmberg, who’s the top match racer today. But I’m so much geared to the nationality thing and I like Dennis Conner’s effort so much. And if you visit their camp you’ll see that there is a lot of that same basic enthusiasm. Dennis is a very good leader. Now lastly, Dennis Conner is, I think, arguably, the finest sailor of our half century. You look at his resume and there is no other resume that comes close to that. When you’re winning Etchells titles at 55 or 60, why, I think that is hard for anybody to compete with. So I am going to go out on a limb and flatly tell you that Dennis is going to win. And listen, if I’m wrong you can all invite me back next year and kid me about it. Enersen: Jory, clearly you agree with Bill that Dennis will be the challenger and I’m sure you believe that he will be the victorious challenger. Who do you expect him to meet in the finals of the Louis Vuitton series?Hinman: Before we get to that, I also agree with this nationality thing for whoever wins this to try and redo what I think is absolutely correct. And the other thing is just the management of the event. If the America’s Cup was a corporation, . . . would not be able to rate it. The continuity from event to event as far as the management of it is something that is very sad and the event suffers because if it did have a professional management team I think it could be much better and that should be looked it. I love your predictions, Stars & Stripes. I think that’s great and I think it will be the Swiss and Stars & Stripes in the final. If Stars & Stripes is not successful, it is going to stay in New Zealand. Enersen: Now we will turn to the oracle of Annapolis. Gary Jobson is going to be there. You’ll see him on ESPN for the America’s Cup itself, sadly, not for the Louis Vuitton series, but he has a lot of insight and a lot of knowledge.Jobson: Thank you, Dick. Well, the big question is, can New Zealand be beaten? When you consider that they were pretty much invincible, it is a darn shame I think that Cayard and company didn’t get to race him because I’m convinced that Cayard would have made it a much better series and probably taken a couple races off him. I’m not sure they would have beat them five races. But New Zealand has changed. The dollar is tighter. The dollar has tumbled dramatically in the currency markets. There have been reports that they are as much as $9 to $10 million New Zealand dollars short this time around. Half their design team, Laurie Davidson and . . . have gone on to greener pastures up at One World. Twelve of the 16 starting crew left and you know from the 49er Super Bowl years when you have all that free agency and everyone leaves it is hard to win the Super Bowl again. And everybody else last time around only had a few weeks of practice in the capricious body of water, the Haruaki Gulf where there is 10 feet of tide and 60 degree windshifts and wind ranking from 6 - 30 knots in minutes at a time. Now everybody is little bit more familiar. So, it is my view that New Zealand is going to lose. I think it is time for them to lose and Dean Barker has his work cut out for him and it is going to be tough. I think everybody is collectively more prepared. The challengers have built 17 boats. The defenders have built two boats, so just the numbers alone, somebody is going to come up with a faster boat out of those 17. Now the next question is, does the Louis Vuitton Cup do its job? There are two reasons for the challenger trials. One, obviously, is to select the best team, but the second is to make sure that team peaks at the right time. And I like the repechage system where you have a second shot at it. It is very complicated to study and get up there. But what I don’t like about the Louis Vuitton Cup is there is a tremendous lead, an unprecedented long gap between the end of the challenger finals and the start of the America’s Cup, which could potentially be a month. No offense, Olin, but that is a lot of time for the designers to start tweaking with the boat that has been going pretty fast. The crew that maybe gets a little complacent with 30 days before the match race starts. So I think the challengers themselves might be at risk. Having said that, I do think the challengers will prevail so that takes the big question and there is a lot of feeling up here that Stars & Stripes will prevail and Alinghi. Alinghi was clever with their design team. They’ve got one representative from every design team from the last time around. And Russell Coutts is an engineer, don’t underestimate this, he’s an engineer, a degree in engineering and he is able to take that engineering knowledge and prowess and attitude and work with the design team, and that’s a pretty good step. I watched him last summer. I sailed a 12-Meter in the Jubilee and this guy who had never been in a 12-Meter before clobbered us all handily in South Australia, which wasn’t the quickest boat out there, or it certainly wasn’t when it was racing back in 1986. He won hands down, so this guy can make a lot of something in a very short period of time. So I think Alinghi will be very tough. But I also like Stars & Stripes a lot, too. I think the triangle of Conner managing, it must have taken a lot of courage for Dennis to say I’m not going to sail, but Conner managing and that all-American crew of Ken Read, I think Ken Read and Paul Cayard are the best talents in this country at this time, so Ken Read and Terry Hutchinson and Tom Whidden and Peter Isler. I think they will be great. Oracle is the third one that I would throw into the mix, but I’m reading in the San Francisco Chronicle today that Larry Ellison is getting off the board of Apple so he can spend more time and he can’t get to meetings and some analyst is speculating, well, maybe he is spending too much time with his America’s Cup program. But the fact is the guy never practices. He is there two or three days and leaves for three or four weeks and comes back. And let there be no doubt the man wants to steer. And the fact that he lets Paul Cayard, who like I said, I think he and Read are our best talent in this country, on the beach tells me that this guy is probably going to have a harder time than he thinks when it comes down the stretch. So, we’ll see if I’m right about that. So anyway, the series between Stars & Stripes and Alinghi probably will be pretty good and I can’t quite figure out who will win between those boats, but I think whoever wins if they don’t tweak too much after they do win and they keep the crew tuned up will find a way to beat Team New Zealand. At least turn on ESPN at 4 p.m. PST and watch live because we’ll be there to tell you the story.Enersen: Thank you, Gary. One question I have to throw out to the panel, none of these five distinguished folks have mentioned Prada. It seems to me that Prada, which has decided to let some Americans, specifically Rod Davis, Gavin Brady, and maybe Stevie Erickson, sail. And Doug Peterson’s no mean hand with a pencil. Does anybody give them any weight?Jobson: Well, I’ll speak up first. Prada was good last time. Give them credit for beating AmericaOne right at the end and they sailed well. But their afterguard in the boat confuses me. You have an American, a New Zealander, a Brazilian and an Italian in the cockpit. And they don’t particularly like each other very much. And all of them would like to be steering. And probably the worst of the four is actually steering the boat. That tells me a little bit of trouble. And Doug Peterson is great. He is a great designer. But [last time] he had German Frers, quite a brilliant engineer backing him up, and Frers isn’t there this time. And the Italians spent two years full-time in the Haruaki Gulf while Cayard pointed out accurately that he was sailing in on a Whitbread boat, while they are all out there sailing in America’s Cup Class yachts and got a little weak in the knees. But everybody has been spending an awful lot of time. So I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the disappointment of this Louis Vuitton Cup is going to be Prada. Maybe they start out fast in the first week. But you just watch as the months go by. They’ll diminish. And maybe there is a little surprise that we haven’t mentioned yet. I like this GBR team. This GBR team is good. I was in Sydney covering the Olympics for NBC and I really was impressed with that British Olympic yachting team. Three gold medals, two silver medals. This guy from Britain just won the Star World Championship down in Marina del Rey a few week ago. They are really a great sailing team and might just end up in the semifinals where Prada is out. So, that is kind of how I see it.Enersen: Have you ever heard any discussion about the two rudders?Jobson: Well, everybody’s done a great job of keeping secrets of the design of the boats and tandem keels and split rudders are something I think we probably will start seeing. You might not see them right away. But let’s not forget that Tom Blackaller’s boat USA back in Fremantle in ’86 was a pretty fast boat. I just wonder if he had maybe three more weeks to develop that boat the whole story, I’m sure he would have beat Team New Zealand and I know he would have beaten Kookaburra. But Conner was locked and loaded pretty well at that time. That concept was not far off the pace. So, I think that we probably will see some split rudders and I think the harbinger that Olin presented is going to come true.Enersen: The floor is open for questions. Gary is asked by John mentioning that Gary was at the Big Boat Series last week and wondered what he saw that interested him?Jobson: Well, we are doing a TV show which combines the Star Worlds and the Big Boat which will be on ESPN on November 18. Again ,if you have an AC Neilsen box, tune in. That will be on primetime. I thought the cool thing about the Big Boat Series was a lot of owners driving boats. I’m looking at the J-105 class pretty sharp. That Farr 40 class is special. Pros there guiding the owners guiding their boats and I thought this Transpac 52 concept is pretty intriguing. There were five boats with good competition by different designers. I think Reichel-Pugh had a boat, Bruce Nelson had a boat and Alan Andrews had a boat and maybe Bill Lee had one. So, I think going into that box measurement formula seems to be pretty good. I liked the Big Boat Series and I like the fact that the people paying the money were actually steering their boats and I think it was a nice trend.Enersen: Absolutely. How long will the ACC class last and what will we see taking its place? Halsey’s been chomping at the bit.Herreshoff: Well, I think it will last quite awhile because I think its very satisfactory and it is working well and still haven’t found out what is the best boat. In regard to the keels, an interesting thing is, when we go down to New Zealand, they have a day when they lift the skirts, or they used to. This year they’re going to be much more open. But you go around and see all these keels. Keels are very important to the performance, and everyone is different. Some quite different. Well, if they are all different, then you know that at least all but one are wrong. It really isn’t hard to separate from that if most of them are wrong maybe they are all wrong. So there is definitely more development left in that class, even the possibility of the double rudders maybe a break through and maybe some other things. But you know it occurs to me that the amount of money is being spent now is huge. In truth, a lot of what is spent is probably of marginal concern. I think it was Jory that mentioned that you can get a very credible effort and a good boat, set of boats and do very well for $30 or $40 million, some of them spending $100 million. So I say instead of spending all this money on whatever they spend it on, and maybe paying the crew too much, eventually lets go back to the really big boats. Maybe even have a rule that you can only build one boat and it has to be a J-boat size or even bigger. And I think that would bring back another wonderful dimension to the Cup and it could be done. Realistically, after World War II, it couldn’t be done and when we first defended the Cup in 1958 the budget of the entire syndicate including everything was $500,000. And the money was raised, Jory, by Commodore Harry Sears sitting at his telephone one evening with one cigar calling up his five best friends and got the money and they went ahead and built the boat and won the Cup. Now, with the fact that 200 times that amount of money is spent, maybe we ought to go back to the very exciting great big boats. I hope that will happen someday.Enersen: Olin, would you like to add anything to that observation or create a new one?Stephens: I’d like to create a new one if I may in this sense. All this money is being spent and I’m glad to see the research done. I’m not a proper scientist myself, but I certainly believe in the scientific approach. But I feel there has been too . . . I think the scientific work needs some . . . support and I feel that ¿I don’t like to speak of myself in these terms but I will because in 1932 and 1933, Kenneth Davidson and I sailed a boat called Jim Crack. We had no instrumentation except for . . . compass but we got very helpful and valuable sail called . . . Today we have far greater accuracy with instruments. I feel its been a very unfortunate mishap that nobody has gone to work to really instrument and sail one of the these IACC boats around the compass in winds of different strengths and go back to the proper aerodynamics and sail co-efficients. I’m very disappointed that that hasn’t been done. If that can’t be done, I think many of the teams have enough information already collected in their computers to do some work and analyze and getting some . . . values for the sail courses. I just feel it is such a shame that that hasn’t been done, but I hope by speaking of it I could encourage someone to undertake the work.Enersen: One last question. What is Outdoor Life Network? It is a cable network that specializes in boating and fishing and hiking and bicycle racing and whatnot. Available in some parts of the country and not in others, depending on the realm of the local cable operator, I guess. Seems to be in San Francisco, but not in Marion County. Gary has a little insight into that I think.Jobson: I work for ESPN. Outdoor Life Network and Speedvision came on together and they’ve since split off. Outdoor Life Network is owned by Comcast, an Eastern cable company, and they had great success going away from their hunting and fishing mode to cycling with the Tour de France and I think that inspired them to try and get the Louis Vuitton Cup. And ESPN, for its part, historically we’ve never started before the semifinals. They wanted to get the early stuff and ESPN, for its part said, well, maybe let them have it all because it is very expensive to do with little financial return. But it is tough on me. I’d rather be doing the broadcast than not be doing the broadcast. But on the other hand, a lot of early stuff is on the air that wouldn’t be on the air. I think maybe the next time around, ESPN won’t let that happen. I’ve actually met with Outdoor Life a couple times. What they are going to do in October and November for the early rounds is, they are going to take the Television New Zealand feed and have a commentator, Bill Patrick in Stamford, Conn., and somebody will join Bill, and they’ll talk a little bit and show pictures and then they’ll go and hear Peter Montgomery and that crowd. There are six of them on that telecast. And then in December, Bill Patrick and somebody will sit with him and they will do the races live out of Auckland. And the races will come on at 6 p.m. in October here with a 45 minute delay and then they’ll come on with the hour daylight savings time, and it will come on at 4 in the afternoon here in California starting in November, for the Nov. 12 races.Enersen: I’d like to thank our five friends for coming here for the weekend.