Program aimed at scientific literacy


ANNAPOLIS -- Almost a year ago, Kevin Mahaney started a Columbus Cup team racing series with John Kostecki and Ken Read here and finished it off on Baltimore's Inner Harbor with a shutout against a team of top-notch Chesapeake Bay racing skippers.

In the middle of last week, Mahaney was sitting in the empty club room of the Severn Sailing Association and talking about where he -- and Kostecki and Read -- have been since and where they are headed.

Mahaney, Kostecki and Read are key members of PACT '95, one of three syndicates competing to defend the America's Cup next May in San Diego. As such, they are in the top end of their sport, breathing the rarefied air of multimillion-dollar competition to win a trophy that carries with it no guaranteed cash prize.

Kostecki, Read and Mahaney are no strangers to national and international competition. Among them they have won Olympic medals, national and world sailing titles and yachtsman of the year awards.

But as Mahaney talks of the progress of the PACT '95 sailing program, there is an overriding concern about giving something back, about reaching out to junior high and high school students through sailing and teaching them that success in any enterprise is built from knowledge.

Sure, PACT '95, which is based in Bangor, Maine, has purchased one International America's Cup Class racer from the Italian Il Moro group, has a new 75-foot racer due for delivery from the builder on Dec. 3, has raised $10 million of its $15 million budget, has locked in on 12 of the top 16 crew positions, and has a base of operations under construction in Mission Bay, Calif.

But, then, so do the other two potential defense syndicates, headed by Bill Koch and Dennis Conner, as well as many of the challenge groups from France, Spain, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

"But it is the educational complexity of this sport that enamors us, not just the simple athleticism," said Mahaney, at age 32 a successful racer, businessman and a trustee of the University of Maine system. "We really wanted to take the opportunity to show that complexity to people."

To do so, the syndicate will spend 25 percent of its overall budget on the PACT '95 Educational Program, a multi-media curriculum it hopes will rekindle scientific literacy among students in American secondary schools. The syndicate's new IACC racer will be christened Young America to showcase the group's commitment to American youth.

"I think that the whole idea of what we are trying to do is broadly called events-based education," Mahaney said. "Sailing is a unique sport to get young people excited about in the classroom because it covers so many activities.

"You have to have a good, basic knowledge of so many disciplines to be successful in this sport."

Meteorology. Physics. Engineering. Mathematics. Ecology.

"You also have to know the geography of where the other teams are coming from and the culture of the different teams and your competitors," Mahaney said. "Sailing is so rich. As an acronym, it is science applied in life."

The group's education program, which was formulated after consultation with university systems, the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences, completed a widely acclaimed pilot program in nine states earlier this year. It will go on line nationwide in January when the qualifying races for the 1995 Cup series begin.

The major points of the educational program are a 13-part PBS television series hosted by Walter Cronkite, a Newspaper In Education distribution of a teachers manual with updates through the Cup competition, call-in radio shows and computer and telephone networks designed to provide information and answer questions.

The program will be made available to public school students, and Mahaney said that as many as 30 newspapers in major markets already have agreed to participate.

The goal of the program, Mahaney said, is to spark the "same creative genius, risk taking and imaginative processes" that once gave America the lead in technology, "to show that, in tTC some ways, not knowing the answers is where the challenge lies."

And the challenge is not only in making a faster sailboat or winning the America's Cup.

"Only one in 10 Americans who watches or reads about the America's Cup are sailors. They follow it for different reasons," Mahaney said. "And because of that diversity there is an opportunity to step out of the basic mold of what the America's Cup effort has been."

Once, wealthy men spent personal fortunes to race wooden boats off Newport, R.I., for the America's Cup. But for more than a decade -- since Australia II and its radical winged keel gave the America's Cup to a foreign nation for the first time -- cup competition has been dominated by technology.

The most slippery hull coatings. The most efficient keels and trim tabs. The strongest and most aerodynamic sails.

And, under cup rules, that technology had to come from the nation a boat represented. Home-grown science applied to life.

The people who can provide that technology in the future -- whether the technology is applied to aerospace projects, automobiles, computers or a better racing sailboat -- are schoolchildren today.

"These are kids who are deciding whether they want to be in school, and we are fighting against MTV and Nintendo for their interest . . ." said Mahaney. "I think we have an opportunity to capture their attention in a fun and innovative way."

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