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Iain Percy: Can he win the Cup multi-tasking as Team Manager and sailing team member?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

SERVING AS TEAM MANAGER while also racing on the yacht did not go well for ETNZ's Grant Dalton (NZL) in AC34 at San Francisco in 2013. Can Artemis Racing's Iain Percy (GBR) pull that off this time? Do any of the other teams have one individual with so much responsibility? Land Rover BAR Racing has Ben Ainslie (GBR) as skipper and former McLaren F1 managing director Martin Whitmarsh (GBR) as team CEO. Former AC-winning sailor Grant Simmer (AUS) is the general manager of ORACLE TEAM USA (as he was in AC34) and  Jimmy Spithill (AUS) is skippering, not to mention that RC is still the team's CEO. And for AC35 Mr. Dalton is still ETNZ's CEO, but this time he is not racing on the yacht.

 

Can Iain Percy do both and lift the Cup for Sweden?

 

Winning the America's Cup is, more than anything, a test of management – obtaining, prioritizing, deploying and re-prioritizing precious resources. Money, people, technology and time.

 

To be sure in the past there have been many winning teams with managers who also raced. Notably in 1930, '34 and '37 the brilliant (by all accounts, and not just in yacht racing) Harold Vanderbilt managed and skippered his three-peat J-Class wins for NYYC. Likewise Briggs Cunningham with COLUMBIA in 1958. Dennis Conner (USA) in 1980. Arguably others in the 12-Metre era. 

 

However, when NYYC's 132-winning streak ended in 1983 at the hands of the Men from Down Under, Alan Bond and Warren Jones ran the team while leaving the sailing to a very talented team led by skipper John Bertrand (AUS) (who, coincidentally, turned up at StFYC last evening). 

 

DC had a successful run as team manager/skipper in 1980, 1987 and 1988 while losing, famously, in 1983. He faltered again in 1992 as manager/skipper, losing to Bill Koch (USA) in the defender series. Bill went on to win the Cup as Team manager and a member of the crew, but not as skipper. Buddy Melges (USA) was on the wheel, except when Bill wrestled it away a few times for photo ops and when AMERICA CUBED had large leads downwind.

 

In 1995 DC again ran his STARS & STRIPES team and raced on the yacht, but let Paul Cayard (USA) do most of the driving. We didn't win (I was the team's rules advisor), losing in the Match 5-0 to the Kiwis with the late, great Sir Peter Blake running the team while Russell Coutts (NZL) won on the water. The same Kiwi duo won at Auckland in 2000.

 

In 2000 I was the rules advisor for Cayard's AMERICA ONE, which was a heroic effort on a shoestring budget funded largely by St Francis YC members, the last truly club-based challenge. But it was surely a case study in one good man having too much on his plate as both team manager and skipper.

 

In 2003 Ernesto Bertarelli (SUI) fronted up in AKL as Alinghi's owner/manager with RC as skipper. They dominated the challenger series and Match. Early in the next (2007) campaign those two famously came apart – RC wanted to run the event, the team and be skipper; Ernesto said no, I'll run things on shore, still sail with you, and you skipper and run the sailing team. RC quit, Ed Baird was recruited to drive, and only drive, and they won with Ernesto also crewing.

 

But even that may have proven too much for one person, as while Erenesto had his head buried in Alinghi's cockpit during the Match, on shore his lawyers were making a hash of the set-up and Protocol for 2010, opening the door for Larry Ellison and his top advisors (then Melinda Erkelens and TFE) to block Ernesto's fake-challenger-of-record power grab.

 

In 2010 RC famously chose not to race on the ORACLE BMW trimaran, although Larry did sail the second race. Jimmy skippered, RC ran the complex challenge from shore and on the chase boat. Likewise in 2013. However, as we noted at the outset, not ETNZ's Grant Dalton, who decided to both manage and sail on Kiwi yacht in San Francisco. He took a fair bit of criticism for that during the Match, even while they were winning, and heaps more after they lost. Unbeknownst to most then and now, with Dalts on the water, things on shore and behind the scenes were coming unglued for ETNZ – another story for, perhaps, another time.

 

So that brings us back to 2017 and our longtime friend Iain Percy. He's a big, strong racehorse of a human being, and as smart as anyone in the game. Iain's got a strong team backing him starting with owner Torbjorn Tornqvist. But can he do both? 

 

 

 

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