Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Staying in the game, changing the game

On the morning of Day Two of La Coupe Louis Vuitton, Dawn Riley called the troops to order in the Areva dining hall and shared a need-to-know. She said: "Your 18th man today is a woman. She won a contest on the Le Figaro dot com, and you'd better expect her to be very excited."

Dawn's next announcement did a lot to lower whatever excitement level might have been flowing through the crew. It was the weather report.

Like everyone else, Areva went out with no expectation of racing, and they were right. High pressure retains its grip. Here's a Franck Socha shot of what Areva's day did not look like.

But Areva, the lone French team here, is interesting on several levels. They're one of those teams that don't pretend they expect to win, and don't even make noise about making the final four (though no doubt they harbor hopes). Meanwhile, the man behind the challenge, Stephan Kandler, wants to stay in the America's Cup game and is very much on the make-it-a-two-year-circuit wavelength. He says, "If we go to two years, I know I will have sponsors. There has to be racing in the USA. It has to go to Asia."

That word, sponsor, pops up again when Kandler talks to the press about the ACC racing that may follow America's Cup 32 later this year: Germany in August and San Francisco in September.

There's been no announcement of a San Francisco event because it's still not set in stone, but it's been talked about so much (and written about a little) that all I'm doing here is letting you join the secrets club with a few thousand of your closest friends. Just don't tell anybody else.

I hope it happens. The Moet Cup a few years ago, with only Oracle and Alinghi, was the first outing for what became the Acts, and if we can repeat that with half a dozen or so boats sailing in the Alcatraz Channel it ought to be dazzling. Unless, of course, one of those autumn high pressure systems comes in to squat on the seabreeze so that everybody walks around saying things like, we might as well have stayed in Valencia.

No matter where you go in the world, "It's never like this."

The other thing about Areva is that Kandler actually has two women on the team, both of them Americans and both of them veterans of round-the-world racing and past America's Cup events. Dawn Riley is general manager, and Katie Pettibone is a trimmer. That's Katie to the right, Dawn below. Riley is sitting these races out, doing shore duty, even though she had the helm in winning the One Ton Cup for Kandler's K-Challenge a few years back. The irony, she says, "is that after the boat leaves the dock there's nothing for me to do but follow the race, but somehow I'm more tired now than I was in other Cup campaigns, when I was sailing."

Areva has only one new boat, a reflection of the budget, "And we built the compound ourselves," she says. "It was fun to come along in the morning, get a workout, and then take a magic marker and say, 'Let's put a wall here.' "

She's a uniquely-accomplished American sailor, but Dawn Riley brought it up herself that she "might be looking for something else to do in three weeks." Not to be ruled out: Getting involved in a political campaign in Michigan.

Dawn, don't leave us—Kimball