Pulling at the Purse Strings

Some say it’s more dif­fi­cult to de­fend the Amer­ica’s Cup than it is to win it, but for five­time chal­lenger Pa­trizio Bertelli, the op­po­site may be more apro­pos.

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Pa­trizio Bertelli, the 71- year- old chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Prada Group and hus­band to Mi­uc­cia Prada, has been as­so­ci­ated with the Amer­ica’s Cup since the 2000 edi­tion in Auck­land. His Doug Peter­son and Ger­man Fr­ers-de­signed chal­lenger, Prada, steered by Francesco de An­ge­lis, won the Louis Vuit­ton Cup but lost in the match to New Zealand 5-0. He re­turned in 2003 with a new Prada, this one de­signed by Juan Kouy­oumd­jian and Ian Howlett and steered by Rod Davis with Gavin Brady. The team failed to shine, los­ing in the Louis Vuit­ton semi­fi­nals. He tried again with Luna Rossa, only to lose 5- 0 to Emi­rates Team New Zealand in the fi­nal of the Louis Vuit­ton Cup in Va­len­cia, Spain, with Jimmy Sp­ithill steer­ing. Sub­se­quently, his Luna Rossa syn­di­cates com­peted in the Louis Vuit­ton Cup in San Fran­cisco but with­drew from the 2017 edi­tion when the length of the boat was re­duced with­out a unan­i­mous vote, in­clud­ing his own. Today, as Chal­lenger of Record, he has more say in how the next Cup in 2021 plays out.

As Amer­ica’s Cup Chal­lenger of Record, is ev­ery­thing go­ing the way you want?

Yes, but there are some things we still have to see, and let us never for­get that Team New Zealand won the Cup. We have to come to terms with their needs as well. I have been think­ing about this quite a lot, about the mean­ing and the role as Chal­lenger of Record, and even­tu­ally I think the main pur­pose is that of giv­ing the chal­lenger their dig­nity back. We want to dis­pel the idea that the Amer­ica’s Cup is just a closed club with the usual peo­ple over and over again.

How do you get new peo­ple into this Cup?

It is a hard task right now be­cause we don’t yet have some­thing tan­gi­ble that peo­ple per­ceive as at­trac­tive. Also, the Amer­ica’s Cup has al­ways been the ex­pres­sion of new tech­nol­ogy through­out its his­tory. It’s al­ways been the spear­head of tech­nol­ogy in sail­ing, and it has to be the same way again. It has to be break­through tech­nol­ogy. It will take some time, and it will take a young gen­er­a­tion to be in­volved. We are look­ing at the TP52 class today, and all the sailors rac­ing came into the fray af­ter the Amer­ica’s Cup in 2000. Maybe peo­ple like Rus­sell Coutts and Dean Barker are the old­est in their game right now. In the TP52S there are not re­ally many young sailors.

The Cup isn’t be­ing held in TP52S, how­ever.

That is true. At the same time, we need a new gen­er­a­tion of sailors to come up. It started with the cata­ma­rans. They were, so to speak, more en­gi­neers than pure sailors. If you want to look at real younger gen­er­a­tions you see them more on the foils. There are quite a few classes that ap­pear to be very ap­peal­ing to younger sailors right now, and we need to find a way to com­bine that with the Amer­ica’s Cup. The Amer­ica’s Cup must not be re­served for es­tab­lished older, more ma­ture peo­ple only. It should be ap­peal­ing to a younger gen­er­a­tion as well.

And this is why we see the 75-foot mono­hull on foils?

Yes. We don’t want to lose the phys­i­cal side of ma­neu­ver­ing. At the same time, we don’t want to give up on break­through tech­nol­ogy. It is the best. We know that it is go­ing to be ap­pre­ci­ated by some and it is go­ing to be crit­i­cized by oth­ers, but we feel that is the way to go. Team New Zealand and Grant Dal­ton and all of us, we agreed we feel we should not make peo­ple feel that the Amer­ica’s Cup be­longs to any one given per­son. It must be­come open again. So, let the fresh en­ergy come in, let new tal­ent come in and re­place it again. That is our com­mit­ment. That is what we want to do. Every sin­gle time a yachts­man asks why we are we do­ing this, you know there is pas­sion. Per­son­ally, I do not see much dif­fer­ence be­tween foil sail­ing or other sail­ing. I feel that ev­ery­body en­gaged in any kind of sail­ing wants to see the Amer­ica’s Cup not as much of an elite club but the ut­most ex­pres­sion of their tal­ent and their skills. It should be a point of ar­rival, not a dream for de­sign­ers or en­gi­neers. If we suc­ceed in do­ing this, there will be a whole lot of peo­ple com­ing back into play.

There is worry that there is no stir­ring in Aus­tralia. You would have thought the nextdoor neigh­bor would be knock­ing on the door.

We will see. It is far too early to tell now. [Ernesto] Bertarelli called us. He is show­ing some in­ter­est. He is not sure about the de­sign or what­ever. It is 2021, not to­mor­row. There is still a lot of time to go.

Pre­sum­ably, your main agenda is to win the Amer­ica’s Cup, and I hear you have made moves to re­cruit Jimmy Sp­ithill. Sp­ithill called us about six weeks ago [ Fisher’s in­ter­view was con­ducted in March. — Ed.] and said he’d just fin­ished. James started with us be­fore he went to Or­a­cle. We are al­ways on very good terms, but even though we are on very good per­sonal terms we didn’t want to urge him into mak­ing a de­ci­sion. There were two ma­jor things we needed to agree on, which were his men­tal­ity, so to speak, his feel­ings about this, and also his com­pen­sa­tion be­cause, of course, when he was at Or­a­cle he made im­pres­sive amounts of money. He was very open and very frank with us and half- jok­ingly said, “I would come for free.”

When he joined Or­a­cle, he com­mit­ted to a spe­cific iden­tity im­age in terms of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and in terms of con­nec­tions and spon­sors. If he de­cided to leave Or­a­cle, he would be much freer in ex­press­ing his iden­tity. It feels a bit like he would like to go back 10 years. If he does get back as one of the team he will be very easy­go­ing. We have one ob­jec­tive, which is win­ning the Cup.

It is go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult for him to go

back to that. If you have a shared re­la­tion­ship with peo­ple, of course you are ri­vals, but you are ri­vals on the sport­ing side. It is not a per­sonal ri­valry, which is some­thing a bit sorry as far as Rus­sell [Coutts] is con­cerned. His at­ti­tude is al­ways a bit mer­ce­nary. Maybe be­cause he is money minded and that has a huge im­pact on his be­hav­ior. Then, of course, as soon as he gets on a boat it is the same old Rus­sell. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Any other ma­jor signings you are think­ing of?

No. There are so many things we have cre­ated in progress for the younger peo­ple too. We’re in the process of build­ing a new TP52. The TP52 is re­ally im­por­tant, not just be­cause we want peo­ple to train in rac­ing, but we want them to stick to­gether. It’s the only bril­liant pro­fes­sional cir­cuit out there. Ev­ery­body is there, and it is al­ready very strong and it is highly tech­ni­cal. It is the best gym for train­ing in con­tem­po­rary sail­ing, for rac­ing. There is no such thing as a cheap Amer­ica’s Cup. An Amer­ica’s Cup is any­where be­tween 60 mil­lion and 80 mil­lion eu­ros, but it does not make sense to think of a cheap Amer­ica’s Cup. It is never go­ing to be the sailor’s Amer­ica’s Cup. The sail­ing team’s Amer­ica’s Cup.

It is an own­ers race.

That has changed as well. We don’t need fun­ders. We need money, and then we have the own­ers and skip­pers. It is all of those peo­ple to­gether that makes an Amer­ica’s Cup. Pre­tend­ing it is a kind of demo­cratic event and it is ex­tend­ing to about any­one is just odd. It is not pos­si­ble. It is not what the Cup is all about. There are, of course, the big driv­ers be­hind the whole event; they are the skip­pers, and the sailors, and the de­sign team. This is cer­tainly true, but the spark must come from lots of things to­gether. We need to find the right match be­tween all those needs and all those teach­ers.

It is a very, very big match.

You can’t do it with any sin­gle com­po­nent. It does not work that way. There are peo­ple who may give all of their time, and there are peo­ple there just part of the time. There are de­sign­ers that might chip in for part of the project, what­ever, but ev­ery­body is in­volved. Also, that is some­thing else we want to bring back to the Cup. We don’t want to be too strict or too polem­i­cal. We want the whole team spirit to be eas­ier, more easy­go­ing, like it used to be. We want to be lighter. Q


Pa­trizio Bertelli con­fers with skip­per and sail­ing con­fi­dant Max Sirena during the Amer­ica’s Cup World Se­ries in New­port. PHOTO : LUNA ROSSA /

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