Sailing: America's Cup challenge hits stormy waters

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The Independent Online
LAST MINUTE talks to put Britain's pounds 15m America's Cup challenge on an entirely new track were arranged in London last night. But what is seen by one side as merger proposals may be viewed as an attempt at a takeover by the current directors of the Spirit of Britain syndicate, writes Stuart Alexander in Melbourne.

The Royal Yachting Association is at the centre of proposals, believed to involve a major insurance group, to inject not only millions of pounds of sponsorship cash but a new management structure for the challenge, which is officially lodged by the Royal Dorset Yacht Club.

It is not known how the current principals, which include Andrew Graves, a professor in management studies at Bath University, and leading British yachtsman Lawrie Smith, may react. They and others put up substantial amounts of personal money to keep development work money while the search continued for a big cash supporter.

Several major companies, including British Aerospace and Silicon Graphics, have also backed the project.

Days rather than weeks remain to give the green light in time to build the first of what is hoped to be two hulls designed by Ian Howlett. But Graves is angry that earlier work has been upset by pessimistic speculation and he said he had withdrawn plans to announce underwriting support from private individuals.

"We have been stabbed in the back and in the front," he said.

Smith is in Melbourne taking part in the Soling World Championship as part of his bid to represent Britain for the third time at the Olympics in 2000. He had been nominated director of sailing but top match-racer Chris Law had said often and publicly that he would like to steer the boat. Law's position with the new group was last night unclear, but it is believed he is in direct contact with them and he has been unhappy about delays in being offered any permanent role by Smith.