Walker considers Swiss proposal

Ian Walker on an offer by the Swiss America's Cup challenge to train alongside the GBR Challenge, Ed Gorman reports

Thursday March 15th 2001, Author: Ed Gorman, Location: United Kingdom
Ian Walker, the director of sailing for the GBR Challenge for the America's Cup, has confirmed to madforsailing that he is considering an informal offer by Ernesto Bertarelli's Swiss Challenge for joint training on the Solent this summer.

The offer from the Swiss comes as Walker and his team await the arrival of the two Japanese International America's Cup Class yachts, which the GBR Challenge will use in UK waters for two-boat practice throughout the summer. Walker said no formal proposal by Russell Coutts, the Swiss Challenge skipper, had been made but he was aware that they were interested in training against the Brits.

"I wouldn't rule it out," he said. "I think we'll have to see where we've got to and if it fits in with what we are trying to achieve." Walker said he was concerned that his own team may not be ready to try-out against the Swiss who have many more experienced sailors and are further ahead in the game. He felt it might prove a counter-productive step.

"Whether we do it, would depend on whether we are suitably practised and ready for it and on the right terms," he said. "Obviously if they were to come over (early in the summer) then we'd look pretty stupid. But equally, we couldn't fail to learn if they did come over. But, to put it in context, I haven't spoken to them and they haven't spoken to me, so I wouldn't get too excited about it."

Walker disclosed that the delivery date for the two Japanese boats - JPN 44 and JPN 52 - has again been put back. Originally the boats, which were campaigned by the Nippon Challenge in the last Louis Vuitton Cup, were supposed to reach Southampton on February 24th. Now the lastest ETA for them is March 25th.

Walker said the reasons for the delay are purely to do with shipping matters - the boats had actually been on board a ship and en route from Japan for two months already. He said the delay will have an effect on the GBR Challenge. "Is it going to affect us? In a way, yes. Obviously the later they're here, the more time we lose. But on the other hand, it's time which is not being put to waste. I think we'll be a hell of a lot more organised by the time they get here, so we'll be in a better position to just crack into it all."

Walker is still planning to work-up one of two boats first before he gets them both out racing. "Rather than rush it over a couple of weeks, our view is we want to work through it properly and do it slowly and then slowly build-up. It's not like we haven't got any sailing time. The delay is eating into our UK sailing period, but we are here for four of five months, so it's not a big drama," he added.

The apparent crisis in the Admiral's Cup is, so far, not affecting Walker and the GBR Challenge sailors who are commited to the British team. Walker, who is co-skippering the British team Sydney 40, said he was not convinced the Americans will absent come July when the series kicks off.

"It's far from certain the Americans aren't going to be there," he said. "Our discussions with people in the US are quite contrary to what's been in the press. I think there's a lot of politics going on - a lot of what you read about the Americans and the IMS rule and things like that, is point-scoring."

He said he and his crew were continuing their preparation on the basis the Admiral's Cup will happen. He believes the sort of uncertainty we are seeing at present has been fairly routine in the past. "It may or may not be more serious this time," he said. "We have a duty to our sponsor to give a good return on their investment in the programme and, as long as the event is of sufficient standard to justify all the training effort by the crew and investment by the sponsors, then we're looking forward to doing it. At the moment we're assuming that's going to be the case."

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