America's last hope for competing in sailing's most prestigious seagoing event died for lack of sponsorship.
Nance Frank and her all-American, all-woman crew of nine were left behind Saturday morning when the Whitbread Round the World race fleet left Southampton, England without them.
They joined the other 23 boats at the starting line and sailed along for a few minutes--then returned to port.
Frank said by phone: "It's been a tremendous struggle. A lot of people have been looking for money for us. Everyone sees the tremendous promotional potential of this race. They just can't understand why an American company hasn't seen it. But most American companies don't know what the Whitbread is."
Most participants figured a minimum of $1.5 million was needed to sail the entire nine-month, 32,972-nautical mile race.
Another American entry led by Ted Allison of Seattle abandoned a campaign earlier, also for lack of funds.
Organizers hoped to have at least one U.S. entry because for the first time the race will touch a U.S. port, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The city replaced Cape Town as a port of call because of South Africa's apartheid policies.
The United States never has had an entry in the event, which was held first in 1973-74 and every four years since.
Frank, 40, of Florida, was told by the Spanish owner of the boat that she couldn't sail unless she had $500,000 to buy it. She was given several extensions--the last right up until race time.
"He's lent us his boat for four months," Frank said. "I think he's been really sporting about it. We've been desperately searching for a sponsor for 18 months." The boat reportedly will be sailed to nearby Lymington and put up for sale or auctioned.
Frank blamed her plight on corporate America's failure to recognize the promotional potential of the event--although several foreign boats among the 24 remaining entries are backed by U.S. companies, including a Soviet boat supported by Pepsi-Cola.
While all the other boats sported the names and colors of hundreds of sponsors, the only distinctive feature on Frank's boat was a U.S. flag flapping on the stern and a plastic sheet on the cockpit railing bearing the name of her project: U.S. Women's Challenge.
"It's a tragedy for America," Frank said. "The values of America are wrapped up in Hollywood rather than in real adventures."