GBR Challenge opens its Cowes HQ

Journalists and family are invited to see the impressive facilities and boats at the disposal of Ian Walker et al

Friday April 20th 2001, Author: Andy Rice, Location: United Kingdom
GBR Challenge - AsuraPeter Harrison threw his Cowes HQ for GBR Challenge open to the media today, and his wife Joy smashed a bottle of Moet champagne against the bow of Asura, one of the IACC boats purchased from the Nippon Challenge.
"Today marks the commencement of the campaign proper," said Harrison. "I believe that we've now got most of the key building blocks in place." The campaign now employs 47 people, either full-time or contracted, including George Skuodas who signed up earlier this week, most likely as mast man.

Harrison also introduced Leslie Ryan as his new marketing and sponsorship manager. Ryan, who is well known to the dinghy sailing world and races regularly in classes such as the Laser 4000, has left her job with a top branding agency to work full time for GBR Challenge. Harrison, who has invested £6.5m of his own fortune in the Challenge, told madforsailing: "It's her job to go out and raise £11m of sponsorship, although she's told me there could be more to come."

The IT tycoon must be hoping Ryan can come up with the goods, because looking at the scale of the operation in Cowes, it's not hard to see how he's going to spend his £6.5m very quickly. Some minor sponsors have already pitched in, including Musto which is due to supply £150,000 worth of sailing clothing to the Challenge.

For a boat yard that has lain dormant for almost a year and a half, it is looking very spick and span. Sailing crew member Jim Turner admitted: "I've spent a fair bit of the last few weeks with a paint brush or broom in my hand." Journalists and friends and family of the crew were given guided tours of the premises, which revealed a gym with the usual instruments of torture, and some enormous hangars, one of which had already been converted into what is believed to be the largest sail loft in Europe.

There is still plenty of work to do in the yard, and the sailors are praying that it will be their turn to go sailing in Asura, IACC No. 44, when it goes for its third sail in the Solent on Friday. Neal McDonald commented: "I'm dying for a sail in the yacht. There's plenty of work for us to get on with back at base, and we haven't seen who's down on the list for sailing tomorrow yet, but I hope I'm one of them."

GBR Challenge TeamSome of the crew, including Adrian Stead and Ian Budgen, are flying out to the States this weekend to crew for Andy Green in the Congressional Cup. Green said the line-up for the match race event was pretty impressive, and predicted it would be even tougher than GBR Challenge's recent struggles at the Australia Cup and Steinlager Cup in Auckland.

David Barnes, the Kiwi general manager of the whole operation, has just returned from a trip to the New Zealand capital to secure accommodation for the campaign, with 40 apartments now rented and within just 10 minutes' walk of the Viaduct Basin where the British compound will be based.

Peter Harrison, whose personal fortune has been put at around £200m, has also bought a house that so far he has only seen on the Internet, with views of the Hauraki Gulf where all the racing will take place. The British challenge has already caused quite a stir in Auckland, with the locals wondering how such a late campaign has secured such good property in the right places, including Compound No. 8 in the Viaduct Basin, right next to Team New Zealand. A lot of that must be down to Barnes, a well-connected sailor and organiser.

Meanwhile, the design team have been busy testing quarter-scale wooden models in conjunction with the Wolfson Unit and the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). Harrison welcomed Rob Humphreys on to the design team, and commented: "In Rob Humphreys and Derek Clark we have two people who helped formulate the IACC rule, so even if they have not designed an actual boat before, they understand the algorithms of that formula in great detail.

"I look forward to the design team coming up with a fast boat...please," he joked. Jo Richards told madforsailing there was still great scope for development in the IACC class. "The beams of the boats in 1999/2000 varied from 2.9 to 3.8 metres, so there were enormous differences. No one quite knows, but Team New Zealand was believed to be around 3.3 to 3.4 metres on the beam."

Asked why other syndicates could not ascertain more exact data on their rivals through telemetry and photography, Richards pointed out: "Spying is banned under the America's Cup charter now. It all got a little out of hand in the last few America's Cups with 12-Metres, and now you are not allowed to take a photo of another boat within 200 metres unless it is to be made available in the public domain. They can dock you races if you break that rule, so the penalties are pretty harsh," he said.

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