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The Life of Reilly
Rick Reilly
August 05, 2002
The jaw-dropping story of the summer happened off Long Beach, Calif., last week when one of the most expensive sailboats in the world-captained by the most famous sailor in the world—sank.
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August 05, 2002

The Life Of Reilly

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The jaw-dropping story of the summer happened off Long Beach, Calif., last week when one of the most expensive sailboats in the world-captained by the most famous sailor in the world—sank.

Dennis Conner's $5 million Stars & Stripes USA-77, America's best hope to win back the America's Cup from New Zealand next winter, was sailing in waters as calm as Bob Hope's bathtub when the rudder post broke. Next thing you knew, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were swimming down hallways.

But that's not the delicious part. When it sank, Stars & Stripes USA-77 was on its way to pick up some sponsors for a corporate joy sail. Hey, fellas! How do you feel about submarine races?

Conner, a four-time winner and two-time loser of the America's Cup, needs to raise about $40 million for his latest bid, and those millions come from corporations like Airgas, which specializes in capturing the toxic fumes emitted from Fox NFL Sunday.

Actually, Airgas is a distributor of specialty gases, and as a major sponsor the company's honchos get a once-in-a-lifetime ride on an 80-foot America's Cup racing vessel. The big cheeses from Airgas were on a launch, with Conner, heading for the sailboat when they got the bad news. Sorry, the boat you helped buy just sank...but who wants some cool Stars & Stripes stickers?

Conner handled the situation rather artfully. He wiped off his flopsweat and said, "You know, a lot of people can go on a sailboat ride, but it's not every day you can come to a sinking." So he took them out to the wreckage site to see not a boat but the top half of its 110-foot mast sticking out of the water like Opie's lost fishing pole.

That must have been when it hit the suits that their corporate logo was painted proudly on a boat at the bottom of the sea. Look at it this way: You're now reaching the oft ignored sardine demographic!

It took six hours to fish out the boat. At least Airgas chairman Peter McCausland didn't flip out. "Dennis has promised us credit for the time our logo was underwater," he said with a grin.

No one knows for sure why the rudder post snapped as the yacht was sailing with the team's other new boat, Stars & Stripes USA-66. Said team president Bill Trenkle, "I don't want to tell you too much because I don't want to give away any secrets." (You especially don't want the competition to steal your snappable-rudder-post secrets.)

Luckily, all 15 aboard Stars & Stripes USA-77 were rescued by other crew members in a support boat. Not only that, but because the sponsors were about to board, the yacht was in only a 55-foot-deep channel outside the Long Beach breakwater. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the team is practicing in San Pedro Channel, which is about 2,000 feet deep.

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