Swiss Challenge Launches

Coutts and co break cover

Friday September 8th 2000, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
Ernesto Bertarelli's America's Cup challenge finally broke cover yesterday, with the official launch of the Swiss Challenge. The club is the Societe Nautique of Geneva, who registered with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron on August 18, 2000 - the first to do so after Prada, who are the Challenger of Record.
This is the group that attracted the greatest opprobrium for their much publicised defections from Team New Zealand. Led by Russell Coutts with the other afterguard members, Brad Butterworth and Murray Jones alongside him, Coutts has also brought trimmer Simon Daubney, mainsheet Warwick Fleury, and bow Dean Phipps with him. Joining this core of TNZ Kiwis is an impressive array of sailors; Josh Belsky, Curtis Blewett and Marco Constant were all with Paul Cayard in their Whitbread race win aboard Team EF, and the former two also sailed with him on AmericaOne.

The squad includes the (formerly) UK based Andrew Cape, most recently noted for his solo efforts in the MiniTransat. Other members of the sailing team announced at the launch were Richard Bouzaid, Jan Beergaard, Francesco Rapetti and Pieter Van Nieuwenhayzen. On the design side, Rolf Vrolijk has joined them after working previously with the Spanish. Along with Manuel Ruiz de Elvira, Dirk Kramers (engineer) and Michael Schreiber (sails).

The boats will be built in Switzerland by Decision SA, led by Bertrand Cardis. These guys are planning to spend US$56 million over the three years. That's an awful lot of money, but less than the US$80 million that was touted around when this syndicate first broke cover.

One of the most interesting things about this influx of private money to the Cup is how it will affect its profile. Sailing has always suffered, particularly in the UK, from its perception as an elitist sport, and the America's Cup has always been close to the top of the list of factors driving that perception. But the last Cup might've - if it had received more attention in this country - helped to break that down, with its brand name laden boats. The outsider could visibly see the marketing money that was funding the event, in the same way that you can in Formula One.

The arrival in the game of a clutch of super wealthy individuals, with an America’s Cup shaped gleam in their eyes to match Sopwith or Lipton, could turn the clock back a hundred years - if they only seek to promote themselves. The optimistic will hope that these people might turn their passion into a successful marketing campaign that enthuses a nation, as Patrizio Bertelli has done with Prada for Italy.

It's encouraging to see that Larry Ellison's challenge will be called Oracle Racing after his company, rather than Sayonara Racing after his Maxi boat. It's less encouraging that I couldn't find a single mention of a commercial name with yesterday's announcement.

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