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Seven More Clubs Join Challenger Fleet; Conner Tosses Hat in Ring

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (May 14, 1997) — Seven additional yacht clubs met today's deadline for challenging the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron for the prized America's Cup.
TNZ leads OneAus
New Zealand leads oneAustralia during 1995 challenger trials.
This swells the challenger ranks to 18 clubs from 10 countries, though some attrition is expected before the first firing of a starting gun in the Hauraki Gulf. (Click on the photo to see a larger image.)

Among the late entrants paying the US$200,000 entry fee was perennial America's Cup contender Dennis Conner, challenging under the burgee of the Cortez Racing Association (CRA) in San Diego. A challenge from Hawa|'s Waikiki YC raises the number of United States challengers to six.

Two more teams from France also filed, bringing that nation's total to three. A second Swiss challenge was submitted, as was the anticipated challenge from one of Australia's most venerable yachtsmen, Syd Fischer.

Notably absent is 1987 defender Iain Murray. Published reports said he dropped plans to make another bid for the Auld Mug when he learned that the boat he was attempting to purchase, John Bertrand's oneAustralia, was the centerpiece of a legal battle. Murray also cited the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney as competition in fund-raising efforts.

The new challengers include:
Australia Cruising Yacht Club of Australia/Syd Fischer
France Union Nationale Pour La Course Au Large
Yacht Club de Cannes/France Today
Italy Punta Ala Yacht Club/Prada Challenge 2000
Switzerland Societe Nautique Rolloise/swissteam
United States Cortez Racing Association/Team Dennis Conner
Waikiki YC/Aloha Racing

The verification process will take roughly two weeks, but RNZYS Commodore John Heise said the club does not anticipate any major problems. He does not believe all of them will make it to the starting line, however.

"We can only wait and see what happens in that regard," he said. "But, in my opinion, we can expect a final fleet of 14 or 15, and that would be quite something."

It would be a record. The largest challenger fleet to date assembled in Fremantle, Australia, in 1986, when 13 clubs from six countries battled for the right to meet the Royal Perth YC defender in the America's Cup match. In that match, Conner avenged his 1983 loss with a 4-0 sweep against Murray.

"It is great to be back in the game. I couldn’t stand the idea of not competing in what has become a life's quest for me," Conner said of his latest challenge in a prepared statement.

Rumors of a Conner challenge had been circulating since his loss to New Zealand two years ago, but he denied he would take part, publicly insisting that he was focused on his Whitbread Round the World Race campaign. Chris Dickson is sailing with Conner in the Whitbread Race, but was not mentioned in the America's Cup news release, nor were any designers' names.

The CRA is what's known as a "paper yacht club." That is, it has no clubhouse or physical facility. It was formed in 1980 to provide an organizational structure for sailors active in the San Diego sailboat racing scene. It has roughly 200 hundred active members and last year conducted 25 regattas in San Diego. In 1987, Conner represented San Diego Yacht Club, which subsequently defended the America's Cup three times before losing to RNZYS's Team New Zealand in 1995.

Waikiki YC announced its intent to challenge last year, and has named John Kolius as skipper. The Italian entry has named Francesco di Angelis as skipper, and Doug Peterson and German Frers as designers. Specifics on the other challengers have not been announced.

The dates for the challenger trials have not been determined, but the races are expected to be sailed in late 1999, probably beginning in October or early November, depending upon the actual number of entries at the time. The best-of-nine America's Cup match is set to begin Feb. 26, 2000.

For additional information, see the America's Cup XXX Fact Sheet.

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