Grand Prix Sailor–America’s Cup Edition

With four consecutive days of heavy-air postponements, Ellison’s sidelining of Holmberg still tops the news
© Franck Socha/louis Vuitton

Dicksongate Unfolds in Auckland
By Bob Fisher

The statement was terse and stinging. “Chris Dickson will be taking responsibility of Oracle BMW Racing’s sailing team and¿included in his repertoire of responsibilities, Dickson will also be managing the performance development program¿”

Larry Ellison was re-visiting a tried and rejected formula after his team had suffered a loss to Prada in the first race of the second round robin of the Louis Vuitton Cup. In no way could Peter Holmberg, or for that matter any of the team, be blamed for that defeat; it was due to the vagaries of the Hauraki Gulf and a streak of wind that Prada took when Oracle was observing the basic tenet, on any leg, of staying between the opponent and the mark.


But Holmberg was sidelined to make way for the man who had been sent away for months because he was a disturbing influence on the crew, and this has been a move engineered solely by team owner and CEO, Larry Ellison, who seems to have been reading the America’s Cup Owners Manual (1962, revised 1983).

The move became more interesting as Thursday unfolded and Dickson steered the boat to a win against Mascalzone Latino, and it was left to the imagination as to what Ellison would have done if the Latin Rascals has triumphed.

Attached to the terse announcement was a series of questions and answers written in a way that converted the rejected Dickson into a superstar and allaying all fears of Holmberg’s future. Yet the words used were horribly familiar. “Peter Holmberg¿continues to be a highly valued member of the Oracle-BMW Racing team. He is focused and dedicated towards the team’s goal¿” They are exactly the same words that were used when this syndicate sidelined Paul Cayard.


The day became progressively worse, from whichever perspective it was viewed. Ellison agreed to attend the post-race press conference where he faced some hostile enquiries. The worst came when he was asked about the comparison that had been made with his team’s situation and Prada’s.

The answer provided in writing was, “This is nothing like the personnel changes adopted by Prada. Oracle BMW Racing is bringing talented and experienced personnel in the sailing team to boost team performance, whereas Prada has eliminated their talented personnel.” Wow!

Ellison’s answer was, “I don’t know why we mentioned the Prada situation at all. I didn’t see the press release, it was explained to me. It’s none of our business to comment about Prada and their personnel. I don’t know who wrote that press release but I’d like to apologize to the Prada team. That’s an embarrassment. I deeply regret us commenting or meddling on what goes on in their team. Last time I checked, it was their boat that finished in front of us yesterday.” No further comment is needed.


Meanwhile, one of Oracle’s best trimmers, Stu Argo from Detroit, Mich., left the Oracle-BMW Racing team on the day that Dickson replaced Holmberg. “It’s just me being me,” he said by way of explaining his decision was based on principle. “We’ve been through this Chris Dickson thing before, and while he may put points on the board, he will have to do it without me.”

Argo, for whom this was a fifth America’s Cup, starting with Buddy Melges on Heart of America in 1986/7, added, “I’m a firm believer in chemistry for teams and with this move, this one just does not stack up right.”

There was a party on Thursday night for Argo in Headquarters, the bar a block away from Syndicate Row in Halsey Street, where to use the principal guests own words, ‘there was the full Mount Gay frenzy.’ His parting words were, “It’s good that I left on my terms,” but there was some regret about not racing that day, “I haven’t missed a day of racing in 17 years, until this.”


Up to twelve members of the Oracle-BMW Sailing team have indicated that they are far from happy with the current set up and could leave at any time. One, a Kiwi who has sailed with Dickson in the past, has publicly stated earlier that there are a few unspeakable things he would rather do than sail again with Dickson is trapped between a rock and a hard place. He has a wife and family to support and there just aren’t any alternative jobs available at the present time.

There has been racing on only two of the first seven days scheduled in the second round robin due to winds in excess of the maximum allowed by the Protocol established by the Prada-led CORM. Starting on Tuesday, there will be two races a day, over the shorter 12.5-mile course. It has to be questioned if this is what was conceived as being racing as close to that for the America’s Cup in February, which Prada demanded when the racing schedule was set in stone. Time perhaps to consider some changes in timing of the races and lose some of the month following the Louis Vuitton Cup before the America’s Cup is held and thereby also retaining some continuity for the media?

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Performance Enhancement
As the America’s Cup challengers begin Round Robin 2, the important thing to watch is for improvements in performance. Over the past 10 days every boat has had modifications, new sails, and strategic reviews. There is great anticipation that the changes will be for the better. But America’s Cup experience demonstrates that teams often take a step backwards before making real progress. This is the risk that teams take when making changes without adequate testing time. A ten day period is short.

Team Dennis Conner was mildly disappointed with their 4 win – 4 loss opening round. The squad spent more time on the water over the past week than any other team. In an interesting move, Conner is keeping USA66 out on the water. One must speculate that either he is comfortable with this boat’s speed or USA77 is not quite ready. The team is in no danger of elimination but it is critical that they end up in the top four bracket which is essentially a double elimination series versus the bottom bracket which is a single elimination series.

Gary Jobson on the fine art of modifying an ACC boat.
For Jobson’s complete story on what goes on between rounds in Auckland, see

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They Said It:
“Me losing after 132 years was the best thing that ever happened to the America’s Cup and the best thing that ever happened to Dennis Conner.

“Before the win by the Australians, the America’s Cup was only big in the minds of the yachties, but the rest of the world didn’t know or care about it at all. But when we lost it¿ it was a little bit like losing the Panama Canal–suddenly everyone appreciated it.

“If I hadn’t lost it, there never would have been the national effort to get it back in Fremantle, and without that there never would have been the ticker-tape parade up Fifth Avenue in New York, lunch with the President at the White House and all the doors of opportunity that it opened…”
–Dennis Conner, during a speech at an Air New Zealand luncheon at the Sydney Tattersalls Club.
Oct. 24, 2002
For the full story see

“After Larry’s decision during the morning meeting most people were wondering whether to fish or cut bait and I looked around and saw the s*#t was starting to float close to the top of my hip waders and decided to reach for the 747. I am a huge believer in chemistry on a team and the pill was too large to swallow, said a few words to that effect and bowed out gracefully.”
–Former (as of Oct. 25) Oracle BMW Racing trimmer Stu Argo, on his Oct. 24 post to the Bayview YC website. For more from Argo,

“I don’t accept your statement that [Chris Dickson is] evidently unpopular. There was very broad support for Chris. In professional sports teams you often have two quarterbacks and these controversies are common in professional sports. Someone says this guy should really be playing, another group of sports writers says this guy should be playing. There’s a lot of controversy. The people on the team similarly have opinions as to who the best guy is. The fact is we raced five times, had four losses, and we beat Victory Challenge because they broke a halyard. They went around the course with one sail. We weren’t getting the results. When you’re a professional sports team and you don’t get the results you have to make changes. That’s what we did.”
–Oracle BMW Racing syndicate head Larry Ellison, on his switching skippers from Peter Holmberg to Chris Dickson. For more answers from Ellison, and some interesting sound bytes from Brad Butterworth and Ken Read,

“We probably would have preferred a little more breeze, but we do treat the new boat pretty gently on its first sail.
“It is the normal thing we do on the first day of a boat sailing. We just go out and slowly work up the loads. You go gently at first so that if there are any problems, you can quickly head them off at the pass, before any damage occurs.”
–Team New Zealand design coordinator Tom Schnackenberg on taking NZL-82, TNZ’s second new boat for the 2003 Cup defense, for its first sail on Oct. 23. For the complete report from the TNZ website,,,7137-1868217,00.html

Recent Results
Round Robin 2, Flight 2
Alinghi def. OneWorld, 27 seconds
Oracle BMW Racing def. Mascalzone Latino, 2 minutes 40 seconds
Prada def. Team Dennis Conner, 41 seconds
Victory Challenge def. Le Défi Areva, 1 minute 19 seconds
GBR Challenge had the day off

Scheduled Matches
Round Robin 2, Flight 3
Prada vs. Le Défi Areva
Alinghi vs. Mascalzone Latino
Team Dennis Conner vs. Victory Challenge
GBR Challenge vs. OneWorld Challenge
Oracle BMW Racing had the day off

Round Robin 2, Flight 4
Oracle BMW Racing vs. Team Dennis Conner
GBR Challenge vs. Le Défi Areva
Alinghi vs. Prada
Victory Challenge vs. Mascalzone Latino
OneWorld had the day off

Round Robin 3, Flight 5
Mascalzone Latino vs. Prada
Victory Challenge vs. Oracle BMW Racing
OneWorld vs. Team Dennis Conner
GBR Challenge vs. Alinghi
Le Défi Areva has the day off

Round Robin 2, Flight 6
Mascalzone Latino vs. GBR Challenge
Prada vs. Victory Challenge
OneWorld vs. Oracle BMW Racing
Team Dennis Conner vs. Le Défi Areva
Alinghi had the day off.

Standings through Oct. 27
Alinghi (9-1) 9 points
OneWorld (9-1) 8 points
Oracle BMW Racing (6-4) 6 points
Prada (6-4) 6 points
GBR Challenge (5-4) 5 points
Team Dennis Conner (4-6) 4 points
Victory Challenge (4-5) 4 points
Mascalzone Latino (1-9) 1 point
Le Défi Areva (0-10) 0 points

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The Secret Handshake of the ACDC
The America’s Cup Drinking Club has been a rapidly growing clandestine society within the America’s Cup since San Diego 1992. Throughout the Cup’s tenure in Auckland, the Club has been meeting on a regular basis in bars around the downtown area. The exact location remains unknown.

Like Free Masonry, the secrecy that surrounds each ACDC meeting is cultish in its fanaticism and although no secret handshakes have been discovered and strange hats are not required, boat shoes are mandatory and it appears media or sponsors will be quickly shown the door should they even consider crashing a party.

According to the sailing community ACDC’s were founded in 1992 at a pub in San Diego where several sailors were discussing the general lack of parties and social interaction between teams. “Some teams were in MissionBay, some in Coronado, some in ShelterIsland and others downtown,” says one participant who prefers only to be known as PG (Party Girl). “The only place sailors would meet each other was on the water, in the throes of fierce battle. We’d have to ride our pushbikes for two hours to get from one team to the next. How is a girl supposed to bag herself a sailor if she’s just ridden a bike to a party and is pink like a pig and sweating like an Australian when she gets there?”
–Emma Sutcliff on the Louis Vuitton Cup website. For the complete story,