Sailing: British seek pounds 5m to save Cup dream

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THE BRITISH challenge for the America's Cup is "staring down the barrel of a gun", according to its boss, Prof Andrew Graves. The syndicate needs to raise nearly pounds 5m before Christmas if it is to go ahead with an already tight schedule for building two boats. Otherwise it will be blown out of the water and a huge amount of money, time and effort already put in will be largely wasted.

The first boat needs to start in January, though Graves said it could be as late as 1 February. Even a January start would mean that the boat could not be sailing in Auckland before the end of August or beginning of September. And that leaves precious little development time before the first round-robin of Louis Vuitton Cup elimination races, which has been brought forward to 18 October.

The professor, based at Bath University, blames in part the Millenium Dome initiative which, he said, is sucking potential sponsorship cash out of the system "like nothing else". His aim in a number of talks with existing and potential supporters is to add pounds 3m-pounds 4m immediately.

This, combined with the cash value of design work done by the likes of British Aerospace, the Defence Establishment Research Agency, Silicon Graphics and Parametrics would, the professor feels, be a credible package to the lottery fund commissioners in a bid for a pound-for-pound match.

"We are in negotiation with a number of people and I am more optimistic now than I was a couple of months ago," Graves said. "But I cannot go ahead with the building of two hulls and keels unless I know we can do the rest." The syndicate, which will race under the auspices of the Royal Dorset Yacht Club at Weymouth, has two offers of sites to build the yacht and a team standing by. It has insisted for some time that it has the money to go that far, but not then to build the mast and sails, nor to run a campaign and personnel that would cost further millions over 10 months.

Graves says many of the challenger syndicates have been hit by both Far East economic difficulties and the lack of a television deal that will excite the marketing men, especially as the time difference with New Zealand means racing in the middle of the European night.

But the "final push" has resulted in the British steering group asking the present technology sponsors to contribute hard cash as well as their expertise. "It's not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, and perhaps the realisation that time is running out has galvanised one or two people," says Graves. "If I wasn't optimistic I would have drawn a line under it, I would have had an exit strategy before now. What I won't do is say we can do something when we cannot, nor to start building if the whole campaign is not already at least underwritten."