"We don't want to break the boat!" Koch yells. "We're going back to practice in the harbor!"
Suddenly there is no need to shout. The mainsail catches the wind for the run home, and America� surges. The wind and hull noises cease; the ride is now as smooth as a jetliner's.
And Koch can't help himself—he grins. Steering a product of nautical technology that has consumed enough of his personal wealth to fund a presidential race, he watches the boat-speed numbers change on the digital liquid crystal display at the base of the mast: 14.8 knots...15.2...15.8....
He suddenly yells, "Look how fast we're going!"
Only a cynic would tell Koch he could go faster on a bicycle. He has the wind at his back, he is master of the waves, and, Toto, he's not in Kansas anymore.
The little "3" is pronounced cubed, and Koch is pronounced coke.
A year ago, few people outside the yacht-racing community could get both names right. Koch's previous flash of notoriety had been for his role in one of the most venomous family feuds in U.S. business, the ongoing struggle among four brothers over the assets of Koch Industries of Wichita. Kans. In the last nine years Bill Koch has filed five lawsuits and numerous related actions against his brothers and even his mother, and the rancor persists to a degree unimaginable outside a TV script. Indeed, Koch steps on the national stage like a character from Dallas or Dynasty: the billionaire yachtsman with Picassos on his walls and 130 years of Ch�teau Lafite Rothschild in his wine cellar.
But would even the TV writers dare to give their hero a doctorate from MIT, a Palm Beach mansion and an estranged twin brother who escapes from a burning 737 after a crash? Would they give him an oilman father who built refineries for Stalin, and wound up as an anticommunist crusader? Would they dare write him lines like "Late at night I like Modigliani, but in the afternoon I prefer a Remington of a man shooting a moose just as the sun is going down"?
A dilettante. That was the take on Koch last May at the IACC World Championships, held in the waters off San Diego. He was not a sailor at all, yachtsmen said, but an alchemist—an egghead with wild ideas about yacht design. He had no experience in small boats, no Olympic medals. His two world championships in maxi-class yachts? Bought, they said, not won. The man from Kansas had simply built a boat, Matador�, that was so fast that no one could catch him.
The worlds did little to enhance Koch's stature. Jayhawk, the first IACC boat built by Koch's America� syndicate, finished sixth, and Koch drew smirks for suggesting that the naval architects who drew up specs for IACC yachts were "idiots." The consensus was that Koch had started his America's Cup program too late—a year behind the Italians, the Japanese and the Kiwis—and that neither science nor wealth could make up for his shortcomings in seamanship and experience. Two esteemed helmsmen-tacticians, Gary Jobson and John Kostecki, left America� after the worlds over disagreements in philosophy with Koch. Jobson wanted Koch to choose his top 16-man crew sooner than Koch was willing.