Twenty Years of the Louis Vuitton Cup

Stuart Streuli

It was an eclectic group that gathered for a 20th anniversary Louis Vuitton Press Conference. They shared in common at least two things, each had challenged for the America's Cup at one point, and each still has a great passion for sailing's premier event. On the stage were Alan Bond and John Bertrand, syndicate head and skipper of Australia II in 1983, Dennis Conner, Sir Michael Fay, who participated as a syndicate head in two Louis Vuitton Cups and was behind the Big Boat Challenge in 1988, Tommaso Chieffi, who stood in for Paul Cayard as a representative of the Il Moro Challenge in 1992, Russell Coutts, the only skipper to win the Louis Vuitton Cup twice, and Francesco de Angelis, who skippered Prada to a win in the 2000 Louis Vuitton Cup. Also on the panel was Yves Carcelle, the Louis Vuitton Malletier. The master of ceremonies was Bruno Troublé, who has run the Louis Vuitton media center for two decades and was a skipper for two French America's Cup challenges in the 1970s.

Alan, in 1983 you made history by becoming the first challenger to win the America’s Cup from the New York Yacht Club in a dramatic seven race contest. How much did the competition in the Louis Vuitton Cup that year prepare your team to take on Dennis Conner?

Alan — We were very fortunate in that series, there was a lot of racing and Australia II performed very well and I think the actual competitiveness of that race series played a big role in us ultimately being able to last the distance and just beat Dennis across the line in the last race. So it did play a big role and without that competition we certainly would have been no match for Dennis.

Alan, how important was Warren Jones’ PR work to convince the New York Yacht Club to sail against you after you won the Louis Vuitton Cup?

Alan — It was very important at that time, the rules were discussed in a forum and fortunately the difficult decisions were held behind closed doors. Warren played a major role in convincing the New York Yacht Club that Australia II was going to benefit the sport and was, of course, perfectly legal under the rules.

John, the winning skipper in 1983. Congratulations John for winning the Australian Etchells Nationals a few days ago. Can you compare the sailing from when you won in 1983 to what you have seen here in 2003 in Auckland?

John — There is no comparison. It’s typical of the 20-year time span, you look at the Olympic Games you seen quantum improvement in performance and the America’s Cup is not different. In fact I suspect the leap forward from 2000 to 2003 is probably one of the biggest that we’ve ever seen. Generally the campaign, the attitude, the knowledge and the technology is relative to 20 years later. It’s good to see these young guys going for it and the some of the older guys too and the application and professionalism, it’s a new ball game, as it should be and I would be disappointed if it wasn’t.

Dennis, you are part of the legend, part of the story, you haven’t missed any Louis Vuitton Cup, and I am very pleased that you are here tonight, I hope you will be back next time. Dennis we have talked before about the tremendous relationship the New Zealand public have with this event. How much will their enthusiasm help with Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup Match in a few weeks?

Dennis — I think that it is certainly important for all the defenders to feel that they are supported by their constituency. Certainly they will have more support here than we had in San Diego because the event was a little lost because of the so many people. The other thought I had while listening to Bondy and John is that there are probably some analogies that can be drawn between [our battle in 1983] Alinghi and Team New Zealand. Us with the more conventional boat pretty well dominated the defender’s role like Russell and Alinghi did here and we were going up against a rather unconventional boat like Australia II with the wings on the bottom of the keel. We didn’t really know what we were up against either. I might have had some of the similar feelings that maybe Russell is going through, and the Team New Zealand guys might be along the lines of Bondy and John and they could have something special.

Dennis, how soon after losing in 1983 did you decide to avenge yourself?

Dennis — That was the first time in the history of the America’s Cup that the event was ever really lost and for me, as much as it is today, that was really my life, I was distraught--that would be an understatement, suicidal would probably be a little closer to the case. It took me some time to realize that the America’s Cup was really something that I wanted to be part of. At the time we didn’t really know what a nice spot that Bondy lived in, in Western Australia, Perth and Fremantle. We didn’t really know what a nice event it would be, it took time for us to realize that it was going to be a special event. I think there were 18 challengers that raised their hands, so we knew it was going to be a big event, but it took a long time to get over the loss and decide if we really wanted to get up off our backsides and stop feeling sorry for ourselves and go to the event or read about it in the New York Times.

Tommaso, you won the Louis Vuitton Cup in 1992 and then you were absent until this year again, what made you come back?

Tommaso — Passion for the sport, I think pretty much what Dennis said. Everybody who has done an America’s Cup campaign, in my case it is the third one, realizes that it is something that becomes addictive and it is hard to stay away. At a certain stage in 1992, I nearly decided to quit sailing and do something different, try another career and come back. Unfortunately I think the sickness is still there.

Russell, you won in 1995, you successfully defended the Cup in 2000. Do you approach the America’s Cup any differently being a challenger from when you were the defender three years ago?

Russell — I think from this point on it’s much the same, we are just racing one team now. I would like to add that watching the video last night on the history of the Louis Vuitton Cup was just fantastic and I have to congratulate Yves and Bruno for the professionalism you have added to this event over the years. It was something special watching that video last night and I am certainly glad to be part of it with the Alinghi team this time.

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| Russell Coutts (left) and Francesco de Angelis squared off in the America's Cup in 2000, with Coutts scoring a 5-0 win over de Angelis' Prada campaign.* * *|

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Francesco, you have sailed against Russell for Team NZ and Russell with Alinghi. Which one is a harder match and do you have any predictions?

Francesco — Good questions, we both know the prediction is not an easy one, so I will answer that second. The first is that Russell’s teams are always a very strong team to race against. For us being the challenger [in 2000] we had that opportunity, it was a new team with a lot of enthusiasm. When we were playing for the first time, I remember coming to Auckland in 1998 and sailing, and a lot of guys were saying what are we doing here. But the races were started, they sailed very well and they had a good boat. But this time, I think the setup is the same and actually I think for us in the semi-finals it could have been the finals again and Alinghi would have been in the finals of the America’s Cup with Russell and it would have been 5-1. It speaks for itself the level of Russell and his crew so now I will go back to the second question, what will happen in three weeks time? From a technical point of view there has been a lot of talk but eventually it always come down to a yacht race. You have to start, you have to go the right way ,and you have to sail fast.

Sir Michael, you were responsible for getting New Zealand into the America’s Cup, you certainly helped New Zealand win the America’s Cup in 1995 and now in 2003 we are sure that it will be a New Zealand skipper who will win the America’s Cup in February, how do you feel, you must be proud?

Sir Michael — Nothing much has changed, maybe I should pass on that question. It is a difficult situation in reality, there are New Zealanders all through international sailing, there are New Zealanders all through the America’s Cup and every Kiwi is very proud when Kiwis do well in Olympic sailing, any sailing. America’s Cup of course is different and the lines are drawn now, the challenger, the defender. I think there is a certain passion and enthusiasm from the Kiwis, they love the event, they have followed it closely over the years, they have put all their support as a country, a small country, with their sponsors, with the public. They get behind their teams from the very beginning and they will do this again, no disrespect for any other Kiwis sailing for other teams in the regatta, but New Zealanders are 150 percent behind Team New Zealand and all of us will be out there cheering for Dean Barker and Team New Zealand this time. Cheering strongly and enthusiastically, but hopefully not over the top.

Yves Louis Vuitton has been associated with the Cup for the last 15 years since 1988/89. Can you explain why this event appears to be so close to the image we all know of Louis Vuitton?

Yves — What we know first is that we are nearly twins, Louis Vuitton was founded in 1854, three years after the America’s Cup started. Secondly because the notions of history and elegance, tradition, creativity and technology apply to both, also travel. We have known already for two days that we have the first challenger for the next Cup, since Larry Ellison declared he was ready to come next time. Our wish is that we can again do a deal with the challengers to be the organizer next time.

John, talking about the hula. It has been said that the hula is the most important thing that has happened in America’s Cup history since the winged keep in 1983, do you agree?

John — I don’t know about the actual performance difference with this relative to a hull without this appendage, but I suspect that this will come down to the ability of these two crews. We just finished the World Etchells Championships on the Hauraki Gulf, we had a great time, 100 boats, it just blew me away how difficult the conditions are when you look at it. The wind is moving around so much, both in velocity and angle and there is just so much going on that a small speed difference can be obliterated by just one tack or one jibe that is out of sync with what Mother Nature is doing. So on a race track like this, there is no question that the tactics, the stability, and the sophistication of the decision making is absolutely paramount and whether that particular development with Team New Zealand is going to be a race winner or not, time will tell.

Dennis, could you give us your insight on the upcoming match between Alinghi and Team New Zealand?

Dennis — I echo John’s comments, I think that at the beginning, when the winds were stronger from the southwest there were less passing lanes, but now in the summer breeze and the wind is from the 020 direction that there is more opportunities here and that not necessarily the fastest boat will wins. Also the starts are not quite as important as they used to be in November and early December when the boat ahead basically had to get there and stay between the other boat and the mark and we saw very few passes. But in the last few series, we have seen a number of changes. I think again you have to be in touch with the shifts and make the other guys make mistakes so you’ll have a better chance. Obviously whether the Team New Zealand boats are as fast as all the Team New Zealand people would like to think or not will make the big difference. Because these guys are all very good, at the top of their game and it is possible that a faster boat could give one team the edge. I really don’t have a feel for it as I don’t know if the hula will Team New Zealand the edge that most New Zealanders would like to see or if the racing will be even.

Dennis, teams with strong national identities, should that belong to the past of the Cup or should it belong to the future as well?

Dennis - I think you can argue convincingly one way or another. But I think the rule should be looked at by the challenger and defender and should probably be one that everyone can understand and that is enforceable and makes some sense. I know that there has been some talk about have things along the Farr 40 lines where you can have four or five professionals of any nationality in any one crew and the rest would have to be passport holders. I think that that makes some sense rather than making people sit out a year and missing the whole event. Some of these events have been five years apart, so if you had to sit out one event you’d be nine years older, and it could change your whole life. It seems a bit harsh to me to make people sit out the whole event to change nationalities but I do think it is kind of a nationalistic event and the options aren’t doing it for us, so I think it would be nice to see a team that really truly represented your country as opposed to 15 different [nationalities] out of 16 people, that’s my personal opinion.

I’d like to hear comments from John through to Francesco, on firstly, do you agree that there is nothing in sport anywhere else to compare with the first beat of the first race of the America’s Cup, and if you do agree with that, I would love to hear what John, Dennis, Tommaso, Russell and Francesco all think having done it?

John - Yes, it’s fantastic, the interesting thing about the America’s Cup is that you can’t train for the event, you know all you people out there and writing about it, you get on the boat and it is just so different. Typically when you are training and doing your thing there is no overhead noise, aircraft, etc. and powerboats. The first race of the America’s Cup is just totally different. Firstly, the wash of the spectator boats, the noise, the helicopters and aircraft, the tension, the accolade going out of the dock, it is just fantastic, the sound and sense of atmosphere, and that is just spine-tingling stuff. It is the sort of environment that you never forget and with our Australia II project way back to the send off from Newport, R.I., with Men at Work, "Down Under" thumping out with the biggest loud speakers that we could find to try and quell Dennis’ Stars & Stripes, all of that was just part and parcel, so it’s a wonderful thing. Being on the boat is just another world again because you have this wonderful teamwork, guys that you have spent sometimes years with trying to seek perfection of your activity in terms of history for this event and then coming together and the lack of communication, when I say lack of communication, I mean lack of needing to talk because it’s all just sign language happening in the beautiful way that a team operates at the very highest level, it’s just a wonderful, wonderful thing to be involved with. I would recommend it to anyone.

Dennis - I have done six of them so that probably is more than anyone else. Maybe this is just a factor of age, but every one has been a little bit different and I think that it is easy to draw conclusions from the first time, because sometimes those are the wrong conclusions. Thinking back, you can sail into a header and be the faster boat and look like you are slower unless you really are or the pressure is not there and it’s hard to really know. Unless you are really on the boat it is hard for us to know. It’s dependant upon the conditions, so it may take longer than the first beat, but certainly, it is a very exciting and defining moment for, in this case, three years of hard work and billions of dollars. I am certainly looking forward to seeing it and most sailors around the world are feeling the same way.

Tommaso - I haven’t done any other sport so its difficult to compare, but in a way it is a sport on its own compared to other sailing, you have all the cameras and all these people watching and therefore the pressure is there and its unmistakable. It is a really high level of pressure on you and that can drive you to do mistakes. I don’t know if you remember, but 1992 we didn’t even start the first beat because we jumped the gun by one second. So it is a lot of pressure, it is an event on its own, therefore you look forward to it, but at the same time you have been preparing for three years and the thing you shouldn’t do is think that the first beat is the most important one, because you have a long way ahead to win the America’s Cup. There could be as many as nine races this time if we believe the boats will be equal so hopefully it will be a good event to watch.

Russell - I think it’s an amazing experience, it’s certainly unique in sailing that is for sure, and the atmosphere is fantastic. But I can tell you when the boats go into the pre-start, everything that is going on around you tends to fade away and you certainly tend to focus on the race and it’s not until after the finish, and I am speaking of myself here, that then you notice all the boats and so forth around you, so it’s a very special moment and I think heading out to the start of the first race certainly gets your juices flowing so to speak.

Francesco - The unique characteristic that stays is the fact that you know you are going to race a competitor which for the previous three years nobody has raced against before. In any other sport, if you compare the Olympics, the Worlds, the Europeans, you always check your competitors but in the America’s Cup you never have this. You have the opportunity, you work hard to arrive at the point, you feel that you can do it, and then I agree with what Russell said, you enter the starting area and you don’t think about the rest, you think about the yacht race. But yes, there is a lot of curiosity when after the start you begin to check the speeds of the boats--which you consider that at the end of the day. When you are racing you just hope you can put your bow across the other one and win.

Alan, it’s been awhile since Australia has had a strong challenge at the America’s Cup, I wonder if you can explain why you think this is and if you see anything on the horizon?

Alan - it is very difficult for Australia to mount a challenge with the financial commitments necessary today. You are talking of $100 million plus, so you need an individual that is prepared to risk that money and the reward I suppose is when you pass the trophy to the yacht club to hold for you, so I think that is one of the difficulties we have in Australia. But I think that if the Cup was to go to Europe you might find individuals that might be prepared to challenge there. It is difficult to get money just to come to New Zealand funnily enough. So until the individual is prepared to understand just what the America’s Cup is all about. I believe sportsmen should be recognized for their own ability where ever the opportunity arises, and whilst it is a national challenge it shouldn’t be limited as such. I would hope that you will see New Zealanders, where ever they might be, playing sport, which is what the America’s Cup is all about. It isn’t only the sport of a nation, it is a sport of the individuals to rise and I think the fact that they do sail on other yachts encourages to other young yachtsmen to compete internationally and I think that is good for any country.

Alan, what was your budget in 1983 to win the Cup?

Alan — The budget was about 10 million Australian and we went over by a few million. You have to look back at the fact that we had four challenges, so we had a lot of equipment intact in the team. But it was less professional than it is now, yachtsmen sailed for the glory of the race substantially, they were only paid enough to live on. It’s now professional, a professional sport like any other major sport and if they want to continue to rise to the heights necessary for the Cup, then I think we have to accept that it is an open event for the best people to sail on the best boats available.

Dennis, this is the second America’s Cup where there won’t be an America team, how do you feel about that, do you think that will have an effect on future American teams competing?

Dennis — As an American, I think Stars and Stripes says it all. I was certainly rooting for the United States to have a good showing here, and while I am somewhat disappointed--maybe even very disappointed--that the United States didn’t do better, I think it was good to have three reasonably strong teams here. I think that they did a good job and I think that Russell and Brad showed their ability and just beat them. So I don’t think that is was necessarily that the U.S. didn’t do a good job it was just that Alinghi was better and good on them and that’s really what it is all about. So, it is sad not to have the U.S. there, but hopefully we’ll see Larry back, it sounds like. It’s in my blood, but I talk cheap. I have to go and raise the money, so I can’t put up my hand. I think the U.S. likes this, it is a big country with lots of other sports and the passion is not there for the sailors like it is for, you know, Superbowl, Basketball, Football takes away from the sailing. So, it’s not quite the same level in the U.S. as we see here in New Zealand. That is a long winded answer to a difficult question. I am proud of the job Russell did here, and I hope that the challengers helped make him strong, that was our goal collectively.

Michael, will you be back?

Michael — Well if it stays here, then three years from now to watch, absolutely. If it leaves New Zealand¿ I have listened to everyone’s comments, Alan’s and John’s and all their experience, and particularly Alan saying that it is hard to get Australian money to come to New Zealand and Kiwis would understand that. But New Zealand has managed it as a very small competitor, with no big budgets and when you look back over the history of New Zealand’s involvement, the money has not been large. I can’t remember comparing it with Alan’s budget, but I think roughly to win it about $75 to $100 million (U.S.) was all that New Zealand had over five challenges. So the money can be raised in a small country where there are no hugely wealthy people to get behind it but where there is a lot of national pride. Therefore companies big and small and the public have got behind it in a very unified way. I agree with John’s comment, if you look at the history, the Cup has had some big players, very famous names have been attracted to it, and I think you can put the two together. I think a special thing evolved when Australia won it, John mentioned the song, the boxing kangaroo, those things became icons in Australia and I have a personal view that that was the beginning of two decades of Australia really beginning to use those sorts of national icons that have become dominant in world sport, particularly in the sports that we played. In recent years you have seen how it has done, so national pride, keeping it a national competition is important. So bring in Ernesto Bertarelli and bring in Larry Ellison, they add a lot of flavour, they pay a lot of big bills for some teams that come to the competition and they will be attracted to it. I don’t think they are not going to come because they can’t put their own name on the yacht or their burgee on the back and take it home and put in on their mantelpiece. History will tell you the event has attracted these sorts of people since 1854 and speaking as a New Zealander and as a keen enthusiast and follower of the Cup, I would keep it very strongly national first. There is room for anyone that wants to support their country, big or small, as an individual or corporate, or anybody else who wants to get behind it. That’s been the key to New Zealand’s success I believe since the first challenges and since Peter Blake and Russell Coutts won in 1995 and then defended it again successfully in 2000. It is a formula that has worked for New Zealand and I think it can work for other small countries. I don’t think it is the prerogative of only big countries or people with a big check book.

A question for Dennis and Russell who are multiple winners of the America’s Cup. In every recent America’s Cup, it has always been the fastest boat that won. Is it possible for a boat that doesn’t have a technological edge, is it possible to have equal boats in this regatta, is it possible for the boat that is a little bit slower to win?

Dennis - I guess you think back to Intrepid in 1967 for sure, and maybe to a smaller degree Intrepid in 1971, so it goes back a long time where the fastest boat has won. We haven’t really seen an equal match per se, that is just the way it has been. In the Etchells you have a hundred guys out there who all know how to sail, they are all very good at their game, practicing some of them, non-stop for five years. So if your boat is faster and they know how to use the weapon, they have a good chance of winning. I can’t explain why the boats have been different but they have been since, I can’t really remember what happened in 1964, I think the boats were pretty even with American Eagle and Constitution, but it’s been a long time. So 1967 to 2003 there has been an edge, and people with the edge have won.

Russell — Yes, I think if you look at the history of the Cup, the fastest boat has always won. I think there has been four or five exceptions to the rule. One of the times I am always amused by is T.O.M. Sopwith, who had a faster boat in one of his challenges and had a professional crew who then went on strike and he couldn’t come to an arrangement with them and ended up losing the regatta 3-2. So occasionally the slower boat does win, but it doesn’t happen very often.

Sir Michael, this Louis Vuitton Cup final was between two skippers you know extremely well, Russell Coutts and Chris Dickson, how did you see them?

Sir Michael - Well Russell sailed a better series with Alinghi obviously. My observations were that either boat could have won boat against boat, but the crew, the Alinghi afterguard, convincingly out performed the back of the boat on Oracle. Russell, Brad, and Murray sailed the sort of performance we have seen them put on many times before, a convincing effort and I don’t think unfortunately that Chris Dickson could muster his crew, or, on a few occasions get the call quite right where I think he had the chance to keep himself and his team in the regatta.