Eagle Fever Fuels America's Cup Bid

February 06, 1986|LINK MATHEWSON

Eagle fever has hit Newport Beach. The prognosis is that it will last all year.

Nearly 100 Club Eagle members--each of whom donated at least $15,000 toward the Eagle Challenge, Newport Beach's entry in the next America's Cup yacht races--mingled with major corporate sponsors, champion yachtsmen and landlubbers at a black-tie cocktail buffet Friday night at the Newport Beach home of Bobbie and Robert Grant.

They celebrated reaching the halfway mark of an $8.5-million goal--the projected cost of bringing the America's Cup home from Australia, this time to Newport Beach.

Eagle Challenge, affiliated with the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, is one of six U.S. syndicates expected to compete in the America's Cup trials this fall. The cup (named after its first winning entry) had been successfully defended by the United States from 1851 until three years ago, when it was lost to Australia.

An expensive program? Definitely.

"You end up forming a full corporation with offices, staff and vehicles, besides building the boat," said Bill Crispin, project specialist. He said "$1.5 million is spent on research, development and tank testing before the boat is built. Once the boat is in Australia, it has to be self-contained down to the nuts and bolts." Use of the latest technology is imperative, he added.

"The people in this room alone have generated $2.3 million," said Gary Thomson, president of the Eagle Syndicate. Included in that figure was a gift of $500,000 from the Irvine Co.

"Tonight marks one year until the start of the America's Cup finals off Freemantle, Australia," Thomson said, adding that Rod Davis, a Soling-class gold medalist, two-time Congressional Cup winner and five-time world champion, will be at the helm of the Eagle. (Davis, already in Australia, did not attend.)

"We're going to win," predicted George Tooby, founder and chairman of the Eagle Syndicate. "I've talked to (Eagle designer) Johan Valentijn and (Caltech aerodynamics engineer) Francis Clauser, and they are both working on some radical ideas on the hull and keel. Everything is a secret, of course."

Chief adviser for Eagle is Bill Ficker, Newport Beach architect and yachting triple crown winner. Ficker, who won the America's Cup for an East Coast syndicate with Valiant in 1970 but had to leave the Cup with his sponsor in the other Newport--Newport, R. I.--won't be at the finals.

"It's different when you're not sailing or competing," Ficker said. "There really won't be anything for me to do down there. It'll be hot down there too--the temperature will be about 110 degrees, even on the water."

As vice president of Eagle operations, Gerry Driscoll of San Diego will oversee the design, building and maintenance of the 12-meter boat, the training of its crew and the building of the boat facilities in Australia. "Having the trophy in Newport Beach will make it the crossroads of yachting," he predicted. "And that's what Newport Beach is all about."

At the event Friday, Dolores Virtue, head of protocol for Eagle, selected the winning ticket for the opportunity prize: Charlie and Katie Wheeler of Corona del Mar will take a week's vacation in the Caribbean aboard the 130-foot yacht Felicita. The yacht, owned by Ruth and Roger Miller of Corona del Mar, has a crew of five and sleeps 10 guests. (The drawing alone generated $300,000 of the $2.3 million.)

Thomson announced that April 5 will be the launching date of Eagle, which is being built in Newport, R. I. "After it's transported by truck across the country to a secret warehouse," he said, "the keel will be attached. It will be launched from an (as yet undetermined) local shipyard, and we'll have another party."

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