Dawn Riley's history-making bid for the America's Cup won't end as she hoped. The first female chief of a Cup syndicate and her coed crew brought buttercup-yellow America True into challenger semifinals with the highest point total of any U.S. team, but has hit rough water.
Of its first seven semifinal races, America True won just one, on a breakdown as cross-town San Francisco rival AmericaOne lost a headstay fitting while holding a good lead late in the race. Tuesday, True was eliminated from advancing to challenger finals. It's over, though Riley said she will sail the last three scheduled races.
From her perspective, however, True is just beginning. "Where do we go from here?" she asked this morning as the crew readied the boat for racing. "We do another America's Cup. If the Cup stays in New Zealand, we lock the doors, turn on the alarm and come back next year to pick up where we left off.
"If it goes to California or Italy or Japan, we'll have to run the numbers. But America True will continue. The Cup is just a part of it. There's still True Youth, our outreach program for at-risk kids in San Francisco, a chance to do the Volvo ['round-the-world race] and the whole marketing platform of a coed, grand prix yacht racing team."
Riley called True a success on that front and she will keep the core intact with helmsman John Cutler, boat designer Phil Kaiko, financial benefactor Chris Coffin and all the corporate sponsors she can keep or sign. The idea is to give corporations an outlet to spread their message and she feels that door is now open.
"Remember when Paul Cayard [the challenger fleet leader] said the only reason I was doing this was to be mentioned in the same sentence with him and Dennis Conner? Well, here we are."
Riley conceded the semifinals were disappointing. She ordered changes to the boat to make it more competitive in light winds, but the breeze came up. "I'm not saying it's luck, because you make your own luck. Let's just say we lost some synergy."
But the first-ever male-female team already had proved itself, she said. Of 16 on the crew, three are women, including Riley in the pit pulling halyards, Katie Pettibone trimming the jib and Lisa Charles-McDonald working mid-bow.
"There are 30 people on this team that know men and women sailing together is a great combination. We've given women that want to sail with men and men that want to sail with women the ammunition to say, 'It works in the America's Cup.' We put up a big flashing billboard that says, 'It works!' "
Riley, 35, has now done three America's Cups and two Whitbread 'Round-the-World Races but this was the first time she reached her goal of putting men and women together, racing in a premier event. That was always her aim; the only way she could get it done was to take over a program.
"We did what we wanted to do with the coed piece," said Coffin, the Chicago businessman who underwrote the $12- to $15-million program. "We showed we could be competitive, that performance was not impacted by having women aboard. We just hope next time there'll be more."
Coffin said along the way he caught the famous Cup bug and will be back. "We've learned so much," he said. "It'd be a shame to flush it all away."