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AmericaOne Quokka Chronicles:
Blood's Going to Spill
by Chris Law , Quokka Sports

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Thursday, January 24, 2000 -

Auckland, NZ

There were few surprises last Thursday when the Louis Vuitton Cup finalists chose their boats. Italy's Prada picked its original Luna Rossa, ITA-45, and AmericaOne its new steed USA-61. The stage is therefore set for the most thrilling boat race of this infant century. And without getting too technical, I've been asked to draw some parallels between the syndicates. For no particular reason, let's take the mighty Prada syndicate first.

Prada was first into the water and it's spent the most money. That made it the pre-regatta favourite, a label it lived up to by posting a 10-0 record in Round 1. As the rounds progressed, however, the challenging pack steadily closed the gap to the point where Prada was relegated to second place at the conclusion of the semifinals, the first time it hasn't headed the leaderboard at the end of a series. The conclusion I draw is that you can't now call this syndicate the favourite to win the LVC finals.

Looking in depth, Prada has two very similar boats. I presume the two boats are at maximum displacement and maximum waterline length, and have very similar waterline beam (width). The rig plans are interchangeable and the mast and sails very similar. Numerically, Prada seems to have the most masts and, while designed in-house, Southern Spars in Auckland has manufactured them. The syndicate had a catastrophic failure in the semis when one of the latest generation rigs failed. For the technically minded, the V-3 coupling attached to the top of the starboard spreader let go. It was a one-off piece, designed in-house, but I'm led to believe it was manufactured in the U.K.

Prada's sailing crew has probably spent more time on the water than that of any other challenger. The crew members must be emotionally drained; most of them have not experienced this level of intensity before. The afterguard, skipper Francesco de Angelis and tactician Torben Grael, are a unique combination, having won many world championships. They have utmost trust in each other, but it's fair to say they lack match-racing experience. The programme is meticulously planned and carried out with military precision under the auspices of the most famous sergeant-major in the America's Cup arena, Laurent Esquier.

The head coach is Rod Davis, Olympic gold and silver medallist, and himself a skipper of two Louis Vuitton Cup finalists. His influence and responsibility has been the key to this programme's success on the water. His approach has been low-key and laid back, and it's noticeable he's completely absent in the public spotlight.

Now, somehow, I've got to rate the chances of this programme. I don't have at my disposal someone to analyse digital photographs and come up with power-to-weight ratios, waterline lengths and displacement calculations. But I can say my overall feeling is that these are two beautifully built boats that obviously perform very well over a variety of wind speeds, both upwind and down. They're going to be hard to beat.

Now let's look at Prada's formidable opponent, AmericaOne. The first thing you have to do is recognise the leadership of Paul Cayard. He was helmsman of the last two losing yachts in the America's Cup itself, Il Moro di Venezia in '92 and Young America (for Team Dennis Conner) in '95.

You only have to see the fire in his eyes -- and the fear in the eyes of those who quick-step past his office -- to know he's the heartbeat of this programme. And if there's a reason why you have to favour AmericaOne, it's the hunger that's contained within its compound: that hunger to win, that will to win, that vital ingredient necessary when the hunter goes out for the kill.

It's rare in yachting circles to see a successful skipper in his own right go out and raise the sort of budget necessary to fund one of these monumental programmes -- $30 million plus. Cayard has been able to do that, and still guide his monumental team that now numbers more than 70.

Small snippets of information make you favour this side of the fence. When the Ford Motor Co. had several million to spend in the America's Cup corporate sponsorship arena, their technical people met with the design teams of the syndicates they were considering, and they chose AmericaOne over the New York Yacht Club's Young America.

Many of the sailors had the option to choose any one of the five American-based programmes. Sailors like Sean Clarkson, a veteran of two Cup campaigns and two Whitbreads who therefore had the pick of the bunch, put his future career at risk and joined AmericaOne when it had little but a free bar tab at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco.

The success of this programme results from Cayard's management skills. His leadership ability became apparent when he won the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1997-'98, as did his value for life. He's not wasting his time here. He's not doing this for anything except to win with the most fearsome determination.

Beside him in the jump seat is John Kostecki, world renowned as the most successful tactician. Himself a silver medallist and multiple world champion, he was tactician for Kevin Mahaney aboard Young America during the U.S. defence trials in '95.

So there you have it. The two programmes are evenly matched. On one hand, you have the balance, the hunger, the fight, and the will-to-win capability of AmericaOne up against the pressure to raise money, run and manage a programme. On the other hand you have Prada with all its money, experience and budget, up against its lack of match-racing experience in the afterguard.

I favour AmericaOne. I'm sorry to do this because of the personal friendships I have with de Angelis and Grael, but I think AmericaOne's ability to street-fight will make the difference. The first two races will be key. If AmericaOne gets a stranglehold on Prada, it will not let go.

Cayard and crew are going in for the kill. Blood's going to spill.



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