YOU'D THINK a multimillion-dollar America's Cup yacht would get a little love after the big race. But even the most well-built 75-foot carbon-fiber warhorse typically ends up mothballed in some godforsaken New Zealand dry dock. This month, however, while the latest super-yachts battle it out off Auckland, Cup legends will be gearing up to tack their way across San Francisco Bay.
The big event is a new four-regatta series for retired boats in the so-called International America's Cup Class, a sailing division introduced back in 1992 that standardized America's Cup yachts. The races were devised by John Sweeney, 32, and Tina Kleinjan, 31, cofounders of Sausalito, California-based America's Cup Media, which will run the events. "We saw the old boats lying around during the 2000 America's Cup and decided to create a special fleet for retired IACC yachts," says Sweeney. Five restored boatsthree owned by Sweeney, the others by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and veteran captain David Thomsonwill compete in this year's regattas, culminating in the IACC World Championships in October. It's tough getting the restored racers shipshape and recruiting the 16 to 18 experienced crew members needed to sail each one. But Sweeney, who invested $350,000 to repair Dennis Conner's 1992-vintage Stars & Stripes, is convinced that keeping these vessels on the water is worthwhile. "I've saved some important pieces of history," he says.
Sweeney and Kleinjan hope the retired IACC fleet will grow to more than a dozen boats. Convincing people to pay more than 200 grand per year to keep these ghosts racing isn't easy, but nostalgia can be a powerful force. "Owners like it because they get to reenact history," says ESPN sailing analyst Gary Jobson. "And because these boats sail through the water beautifully."