US pulls out of Admiral's Cup
Ken Morrison, chairman of US Sailing's Offshore Teams, Offshore One-Design and Level Classes Committee has announced that the United States will not be fielding a three-boat team in Cowes this July. This is only the second time since the event began in 1957 that the Americans will not be attending, the last occasion being in 1993.
Morrison said: "This is an unfortunate situation, especially since we had such a spirited competition for qualifying the Farr 40 one-design position on the team." IT tycoon Philippe Kahn's 'Pegasus' qualified for that position in a close-fought battle with Jim Richardson's 'Barking Mad' that culminated at Key West Race Week.
"Our biggest problem was in pulling together the interest and complete funding to support both the IC45 and Sydney 40 efforts," said Morrison. Currently there are no boats of these classes racing in the US, leaving only the option of expensive and complex charter arrangements.
"Even after examining every viable option, we were still unable to make the arrangements necessary to have a solid and well-organised effort. If the RORC had retained the IMS 50 rating band as they originally announced in November 1999 instead of substituting the IC45, the United States would probably have been successful in fielding a team this year."
Morrison's statement begs the question why the Americans did not raise these objections earlier. RORC's decision to drop the IMS 50 rating band in favour of a more affordable one-design in the form of the IC45 was a brave one, but one that needed doing to boost an ailing event. To be competitive in the Admiral's Cup required a latest generation IMS 50 - the boats built two years earlier were markedly slower, and the ones built two years before that off the pace altogether. There is no indication from past events that retaining the IMS big boat category would have done any more for the Admiral's Cup this time.
Morrison's reasons for the US withdrawal are also at odds with those given to madforsailing by Don Genitempo, manager of the US Admiral's Cup team since 1985. He was unequivocal about the reasons for not attending - the unpopularity of the Sydney 40. "The Sydney 40 is not popular anywhere in the world. There is not one boat in the US, and campaigning costs for it would be just short of half a million dollars. It is a boat that is not fun to sail, has no future, and an owner would not bring it back to the US - that's a big motivation for not doing the event."
Genitempo also confirmed that an IC45 had been lined up to compete in the Admiral's Cup, Heatwave owned by Sal Giordano. But Giordano had been reluctant to compete in a team without a professionally-backed, financially secure Sydney 40 campaign. One of the Farr 40 owners who was unsuccessful in the Farr 40 trials had offered to step in and fund a chartered Sydney 40 campaign, on the proviso that he was to steer the boat, but this was still an unsatisfactory option in the eyes of some parties.
Australia is another major yachting nation that had looked set to compete but whose participation is now in severe doubt. Janet Grosvenor of RORC admitted to madforsailing yesterday: "It is a blow, because I think we've always felt it was a strong event with the Americans and the Australians there. Their presence gives a great lift to the event."
The danger now is that the US withdrawal will trigger a change of heart in other countries, amid rumours that the event might be cancelled altogether. Along with the Australians and Americans, there will be no teams from New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands or any of the Scandinavian countries. The Germans are believed to be in doubt, which by madforsailing's calculations, would only leave a strong British team, the Italians, French and perhaps two other teams - called perhaps Commonwealth and European - made up of assorted British and Italian boats.
The reasons for not participating vary from country to country. However the involvement of hundreds of the world's best sailors in the America's Cup 2003 and the forthcoming Volvo Ocean Race cannot have helped, whilst the Sydney 40 has failed to find popularity - even in Australia.
Grosvenor said she was unsure how many teams would materialise by 2 April, the deadline for entries, when the Admiral's Cup management committee will meet to consider its options. Asked about fears that the event might be cancelled - the first time that would have happened since its inception in 1957, Grosvenor said: "We are obviously hearing the same rumours. It all started last week when the Americans announced they were not coming."
But one RORC insider told madforsailing that there is always a period where things seem jittery and uncertain, but even he admitted the current situation was not encouraging.
Others remain convinced of the event's viability. madforsailing spoke to one member of the British Admiral's Cup and America's Cup squads, who said there were still moves being made by American owners to bring a credible US challenge to Cowes this year. Let's hope so.
RORC have made a lot of radical changes to make the Admiral's Cup more accessible and more affordable, and their efforts deserve greater success than they currently appear to be enjoying.