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America3's advanced technology puts sailing on course for new era


SAN DIEGO -- The defense of the America's Cup -- though perhaps a fiscal failure for this Southern California city and the America's Cup Organizing Committee -- was a huge success from a sailing standpoint.

A new class of 75-foot boats replaced the cumbersome 12-Meter Class that had been used since 1958, and because of it, the technology of sailing advanced decades in a couple of years.

Bill Koch and his America3 syndicate won in its first attempt at the cup because technology allowed it to leapfrog past well-established groups.

Where the kings of sailing once were the skippers and their crews, the new royalty might well be the designers of the International America's Cup Class -- the scientists who quickly can develop new hull shapes and sail plans through computer software and wind tunnel and tank testing.

"You know, there is a lot more to an America's Cup than just a sailboat race," said Buddy Melges, 62, helmsman for America3. "Because the 57 or so designers who have put together this class right now have brought in so many things that have gone beyond my grandest imagination of what yacht racing was all about."

Among them:

* Carbon fiber construction in hulls, sails and running rigging.

* Changes in underbody design that were implemented without on-the-water testing.

* Boat-speed predictions that were accurate almost regardless of the skipper.

* Laser range finders to track the speed and position of an opponent at the push of a button.

* Assorted other kinds of scientific mumbo jumbo that a few years ago would have been considered only in a Star Wars package.

And costs that escalated more quickly than the federal deficit.

If there is a sore point in this defense of the cup, cost is it.

Italian industrialist Raul Gardini spent some $100 million on a dream that at times must have seemed like a nightmare.

Koch personally spent the better part of $65 million on a dream he couldn't let go of.

"When all this was first presented to me . . . I asked myself, why should I get involved? It is extremely expensive, it makes enemies of good friends, and it creates a lot of publicity, which I do not like.

"I decided that there is a dream here that I've got, a dream that I could show that ordinary Americans and American technology and American management style can compete with the best in the world."

Koch said his problem was that he could not leave the dream alone.

"I fall in love with my dreams, and then I make them come true," Koch said. "That has been my passion throughout this. . . . I believed we could do it and, by God, I said we will do it. And, damn it, we have done it."

From a sailor's point of view, Il Moro skipper Paul Cayard had a similar dream.

"Three and a half years ago, when I embarked on this challenge, I dreamed of winning the America's Cup -- but if I separated myself from my dreams, I wasn't sure we were going to come this far.

"Basically, I was embarking on something that was completely unknown."

When Cayard, who grew up in San Francisco, started out with Gardini, there was no cup team in Italy.

"So we made one . . . and it beat eight other challengers before it came up a little short."

What Cayard and Gardini built from scratch in Italy, teams in Spain, Sweden and Japan built in their countries.

New Zealand and Australia rebuilt their challenge syndicates. Russia and Yugoslavia made a stab at it and fell short.

Certainly, there will be changes before the 1995 defense of the America's Cup.

Challenger and defense groups have agreed to look at ways to cut costs so that smaller countries will not be scared off.

Further in the future, it is likely that the cup will strengthen the rules governing nationality and discourage the use of hired guns such as Italy, Japan and New Zealand employed this time.

But the technology will grow, and the effects of it eventually will filter to the club racer -- although it likely will be some time before a carbon fiber mainsail will be seen in a weeknight series on the Inner Harbor.

From Koch's standpoint, America3's success is an object lesson.

From Melges' standpoint, it has been a great run from the disappointing showing of Heart of America in Fremantle in 1987 to winning the America's Cup.

Will he be back in 1995, at age 65 to play the younger man's game?

"They are great boats," Melges said. "But I am going fishing."

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