Mystery of small club's cup challenge

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The Independent Online
A serving lifeboatman who has never even seen an America's Cup boat yesterday took Britain back into big-time yachting with the launch of an official challenge by the Royal Dorset club in Weymouth for the world's premier trophy.

While giving little detail about the backing for a project that will cost about $25m (pounds 16.6m), the small club's commodore, Bill Simmonds, said: "This will be Britain's first official challenge for the America's Cup since 1987, and we are indeed fortunate to be working with a team of highly experienced individuals who will manage the challenge. The club has deposited the required entry fee [$100,000] with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron."

Entries for the event, which begin with a long series of elimination races in October 1999, are to close today. Late entries will be accepted at a higher fee.

The Dorset entry has been kept under wraps as a joint initiative from the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Royal Thames yacht clubs has fallen by the wayside and a private initiative, Endeavour 2000, has struggled to find backing.

The New Zealanders are holding a dinner in Auckland tonight at which Sir Peter Blake, the boss of Team New Zealand which in San Diego last year lifted the Cup from the Americans for only the second time in its 144-year history, announces the challengers so far.

Heading the list will be the New York Yacht Club, which will also organise the other challengers and their race schedules. The other Americans are expected to be San Francisco's St Francis Yacht Club and Peter Holmberg's US Virgin Island's Challenge. However, Mr America's Cup himself, Dennis Conner, is not expected to challenge at this time.

There will be at least one Japanese challenge from the Nippon Yacht Club and, although adviser Peter Gilmour said yesterday in Lymington he did not know of a second, there could be two. The Australians, through Southport Yacht Club, Brisbane, are probable contenders.

The mystery surrounding the composition of Britain's syndicate had top advisers such as Harold Cudmore, the skipper of Crusader in 1987, scratching their heads yesterday. The names being mentioned were Chris Witty, a former adviser to Virgin's Richard Branson, along with the designer Ian Howlett and sail designer Angus Melrose. That would put Lawrie Smith, a friend of all three, firmly in the skipper's berth.

However, Simmonds said: "Details of the consortium, of financial backing, the design group, and sailing and support teams will not be released at this time. We look forward to sharing details... hopefully at the beginning of next year. I am con- fident that the people we are in partnership with can fund a serious challenge. We would not have entered unless we thought it would go the full distance."