Wight Lightning off to a faltering start
"Now what?" asks the Princess Royal
On a bright sunny day at the GBR Challenge base by the Medina River in Cowes, around 800 press, guests and VIPs filed into a darkened shed to witness the unveiling of the brand new racer of Peter Harrison's America's Cup team - GBR70 better known as Wight Lightning.
As Peter Harrison was keen to point out, it was a significant moment in British yacht racing history. "In 100 years only six men have headed America's Cup campaigns from Britain", he stated, listing the historic names beginning with Sopwith and Lipton. None of these great figures had succeeded in bringing the America's Cup back to UK shores. "History has shown that GBR Challenge is facing a massive mountain to climb".
For GBR Challenge the mountain will be all the steeper as it is the first British challenge on the America's Cup since White Crusader in 1987. As if this were not enough, GBR-70 is the first present generation America's Cup Class yacht to be built in the UK.
What particularly struck home, as the curtain was lifted to unveil the new boat and the team, was just what an incredible mass of British talent GBR Challenge is harnessing in their bid to bring Peter Harrison's dream to fruition. This project not only includes most of the top young sailing talent in the UK, but also harnesses the top design talent - from Derek Clark, head of the design team, to Jo Richards, Phil Morrison, Rob Humphreys, Hugh Welbourne, Steven Jones, to name but a few of the 10 person team. And like Team New Zealand and unlike the other challenging syndicates, the team has a certain purity - GBR Challenge contains precious few foreigners who have had take on UK nationality. It is truly a British effort.
Proceedings began with Richard Simmonds introducing the America's Cup and the campaign. All along the way he was careful to pay tribute to Peter Harrison, the man who has financed GBR Challenge to the tune officially quoted as being £22 million but rumoured to be approaching £40 million.
Peter Harrison at this point ushered in HRH The Princess Royal along with the Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, RYA Secretary General Mr and Mrs Rod Carr and a number of other dignitaries, before taking the stage.
Harrison described how it had only been 15 months since he had decided to embark on his America's Cup challenge. "In September 2000 I became aware that JPN 41, 44 and 52 and the supporting assets of the Nippon Challenge were for sale," he recounted. "This was my America's Cup starter kit." He described how this had been his first building block. His second was the recruitment of Kiwi America's Cup veteran David Barnes, while the third was the appointment of double Olympic Silver medallist Ian Walker as Sailing Manager.
"Running an America's Cup team is like business," commented Harrison who sold his company Chernikeef for £300 million in June 2000. "You need imagination and quality of leadership, and the skill of a highly motivated team. This is the same for an America's Cup team". He complimented the team. "The team is one of the most dedicated I have ever known".
Harrison then gave a run down of the sponsorship situation - which remains the same as it did in January - in that they currently have £2 million sponsorship in kind from shipping company P&O Nedlloyd. "To ensure continuity into 2006 we require a 50/50 sponsorship", he said.
Skipper Ian Walker then took the stage. "12 months ago, 18 of us, four of us who had ever sailed an American's Cup boat before, went out for our first sail. We've come a very long way in one year since then. I am very proud in what we have achieved and the manner in which we have gone about it". He commented that Lloyd's of London had recently decided that boats should be called 'it' not 'she' and that to him Wight Lightning would definitely be a 'she'.
Following his speech, HRH Princess Anne took the stage. Princess Anne agreed with him, saying that if the boat were an 'it' then there would be no point in naming it. "What we see here is the culmination of an enormous amount of hard work," she said. "When this technology becomes a living working yacht of the best sort, she will need a name to go with it. And that is when she begins to grow the character that she will need to go into this challenge".
"I am delighted through my association with the Royal Yachting Assocation that some many of the youth squad have now developed into America'a Cup sailors. Awareness of sailing and what it offers, getting the attention of the whole British public to this challenge will make a real difference to how they perform.
"We owe Peter Harrison a debt of gratitide for the thoroughness of his approach. I wish the challenge very success. You will need some luck, but the harder you work between now and then the less luck you will need".
Then with a fanfare of trumpets the curtain was hoisted and there she was - Wight Lightning, surrounded by GBR Challenge's complete team clad in their blue uniform - less Ed Danby and his team who are still in New Zealand carrying out further work on GBR52 and Andy Green and his team who are currently in Los Angeles campaigning in the Congressional Cup.
Princess Anne and Peter Harrison climbed on to a small stage and proceeded to go through with the naming. "I name this yacht... and all those who sail in her". She pulled the string that sent the bottle of bubble heading south towards the hull. There was the thud of glass hammering against carbon fibre, but no breaking glass. In the end it was Lightning, (Craig Nutter) who saved the day clambering onto the hull and rehoisting the bottle. "Go on - you do it," Princess Anne could be heard saying - and so it was that Lightning christened White Lightning.
And what of the boat? Inside the shed White Lightning was without her rig and evidently without her keel (although much of her hull was shrouded). In this state it is hard to judge how she compares with the other IACC boats, but the general consensus was that she is at the top end of the both the length and displacement envelopes allowed under the ACC rule. The boat is clearly narrower than NZL60.
In following the long and heavy route, the design team are clearly seeking to developed additional waterline length by sailing the boat highly presseed at significant angles of heel. To this end, expect to see relatively full sails and the fast VMG oriented style of sailing developed and perfected by Team New Zealand.
With all the latest generation of boats getting narrower, the big question remains, where does GBR70 fit in the performance profile of the new generation boats. To a great extent the answer to this question will dictate the Challenge's chances of success in Auckland.
At the ceremony it was announced that Olympic rowers Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent will be patrons of GBR Challenge. "The whole of the nation is going to be gripped by what you are setting out to do," commented Pinsent in a videoed message.
Build of Wight Lightning was carried out by a team of 33 men and one woman and has taken 24,000 man hours to build over the course of five months.
Apparently there is still much work to be done on the boat as although at one point they were ahead of the build schedule, they have got a little behind. The boat is due to be shipped to New Zealand new week, where it is expected to be launched in mid-June.
Peter Harrison summed up "Initially now the other teams wouldn't have rated us. Now I do believe we represent a threat to them".
See page two for the announcement of the America's Cup TV deal for the UK...