The multinational America's Cup sailors of OneWorld Challenge have learned to accommodate the foibles of their varied crewmates, but some things remain off-limits.
"Cricket," said skipper Peter Gilmour, an Australian. "We don't discuss the cricket."
"Or the rugby," said hulking grinder Andrew (Meat) Taylor, a New Zealander, with a menacing glare.
Australians and New Zealanders are staunch allies who'd defend each other to the death. But there's no love lost on the cricket or rugby pitch, and a boat is a small place for passionate disputes.
With all the Aussies on OneWorld, including skipper Gilmour and helmsman James Spithill, you'd think the lads from over the Tasman Sea might call the shots. But on U.S.-flagged OneWorld they're outnumbered by Kiwis six to four and, perhaps more importantly, outweighed. Taylor and massive Craig Monk, another grinder, could easily toss the entire afterguard overboard if they felt the urge.
So Kiwis wield the clout, which is one reason there was no joyous celebration after the Seattle-based entry eliminated Stars & Stripes, 4-0, in the quarterfinals of Cup challenger trials last week to advance to next week's semifinals.
"No high-fives," said Taylor, who twice won the Cup for his homeland and who pledges to correct any OneWorld crewman who defies his dictum. "A quiet handshake, maybe. A pat on the back."
"Maybe at the end," said Richard Dodson, another experienced Kiwi sailor. "Not now."
New Zealanders loathe garish victory displays. In this case, they didn't have to convince their crewmates. "There's no reason to celebrate," said Gilmour, who has four Cup campaigns on his resume. "Looking forward, we still have four or five extremely tough matches to go."
Indeed, if the Seattle syndicate is to reach its goal and capture the America's Cup for billionaire backers Craig McCaw and Paul Allen, the sailors have work to do. They must beat 2000 challenger Prada next week in a best-of-seven series, then knock off top-seeded Oracle/BMW and Alinghi in back-to-back matches. If they topple the big three, OneWorld wins the right to face a speedy black boat from Team New Zealand in the best-of-nine Cup final starting Feb. 15.
It all sounds daunting enough without a looming cloud of litigation. This weekend, an international arbitration panel for the second time ponders charges OneWorld had illegal materials in hand when its designers drew up plans for their Cup boats. The hearing, requested by Prada and Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes, seeks to have OneWorld tossed from the regatta.
While lawyers map strategy for a war of words in the hearing room, OneWorld's team of Kiwi, Aussie, American, British, German, Canadian and Japanese sailors will stick to what they've done best for the past two years -- sailing harder than anyone.
"The protest couldn't have motivated us better," said Gilmour, "to rub D.C.'s [Conner's] nose back in it."
OneWorld is the rising dark horse in a powerful Cup semifinal field. It surprised many by shooting from the box to an 8-0 start in the first round of racing in October. Crew work was close to flawless, 23-year-old helmsman Spithill seemed unflappable and the boat was plenty fast.
Dodson, one of a half-dozen Team New Zealand veterans who moved over to OneWorld after the 2000 event, says the early success is simple to explain: "Hard hours, winter hours when it's cold and blowing. When everybody else stayed in we went out anyway, with both boats."
"It's true," says former French skipper Bruno Trouble, who now runs the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series. "They went two-boat training on the worst days."
In that and other ways, OneWorld's quest for the Cup has followed a pattern of hard work and clean living prescribed by McCaw, the cell phone billionaire who entered the game with noble aspirations. Before the 2000 event, he donated $1 million to Team New Zealand's first defense. He was concerned the Kiwis might be steamrollered by big-spending challenges, said OneWorld executive director Bob Ratliffe.
After TNZ thumped Prada, 5-0, to retain the Cup, McCaw "realized there was no reason to feel sorry for the Kiwis," Ratliffe said. Bitten by the bug and flush with cash from the sale of his cell phone company to AT&T for $11.4 billion, McCaw hatched his own challenge and later was joined by software billionaire Allen.
The upshot is OneWorld, launched with a pledge to play by the rules and adhere to the highest standards of sportsmanship while promoting environmental issues and building a global team from many nations.
It's no small irony that from those altruistic origins OneWorld is mired in the most contentious legal dispute of this Cup, accused of having illegal documents from other camps when the race boats were being designed. Charges mainly come from a former employee, Kiwi lawyer Sean Reeves, who in a signed affidavit claims he saw secrets from Team New Zealand, Prada and America True scattered around team offices.
While admitting it indeed had documents it should not have had, OneWorld has denied any were used in the design process. It admitted to the indiscretions last summer in a submission to the arbitration panel and was fined costs of a hearing and docked a point in the early rounds.
Cup insiders reckon the arbitration panel is unlikely to significantly change its ruling in the upcoming hearing unless there is substantial new evidence, but litigation in sailing is notoriously unpredictable and no one is placing bets.
Meantime, the sailors stay focused on the water. By all measures they are sailing well, having ironed out some initial difficulties. When the team first assembled with sailors from seven nations, "There were issues," said navigator Kevin Hall, one of four Americans who regularly sail on the race boat. "The biggest thing was how much high-fiving, but we worked that out."
It took a while to smooth over other cultural hiccups, said Hall, but "now we don't just tolerate each other, we look forward to sailing together and we learn from each other."
Perhaps the biggest leap was made by the team's four Japanese sailors, recruited from the Nippon Challenge of 2000. What they bring to the mix, says Taylor, the Kiwi grinder, "is hard work. They're not lazy!"
Hall says the Americans have learned from the Kiwis to tone down their affection for "warm and fuzzy sports psychology. When things go wrong, we like to talk about it. The Kiwis say just get on with it."
Americans indeed love to talk, Gilmour says. "You have your loudest, most vociferous comments from the Americans, and the meekest from the Japanese, with the Kiwis, Aussies and Brits somewhere in the middle. But right across the organization, we all benefit from seeing how other cultures deal with the same problems."
Which is, after all, what a team called OneWorld ought to be about. If it survives the upcoming legal challenge, OneWorld will be back in the hunt for the America's Cup with four big hurdles left to cross. With a fast boat, solid crew, solid young helmsman and battle-hardened skipper, ingredients are in place for an interesting run.