In 1987, Koch had offered to build a big boat to race, on behalf of the San Diego Yacht Club, against Fay's
. Instead, the club chose Conner's catamaran, Stars & Stripes. This time, Koch (pronounced coke) didn't wait to be invited to participate. In a single dramatic move he put $20 million of his own chips on the America's Cup table.
If he follows the examples of Sir Thomas Lipton, Ted Turner and Alan Bond, Koch, 50, could develop into a true America's Cup eccentric. He's the founder of Oxbow Corporation, an alternative-energy investment company in West Palm Beach, Fla. Tall, freckled and shy, he's fond of mixing down-home Midwesternisms with sophisticated business strategy. "The only thing you find in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead skunks," says Koch, who holds a doctorate in chemical engineering from MIT
Along with his three brothers, Koch, who grew up in Wichita, Kans., inherited his father's oil-refinery business, but the fortune turned out to be a mixed blessing. The trouble began in the early '80s when the brothers attempted to divide Dad's fortune. Bill's older brother, Charles, said of Bill, he has "various psychiatric ailments." Bill countercharged that Koch Industries, controlled by Charles and Bill's twin brother, David, was stealing oil that belonged to American Indians. Ever since, the Koch blood feud has been played out across the front page of
The Wall Street Journal
Six years ago Bill Koch, who began sailing at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind., entered the world of big-boat racing. He started at the top, buying, building and then helming two 80-foot maxi-boats, both named Matador. The newest version, Matador�, or, when spoken, "Matador squared," obliterated the competition in her maiden regatta, the Maxi Boat world championships held in Newport, R.I., in late September.
"It seems as though they've found a faster way through the water," says Gary Jobson, ESPN sailing commentator and an early member of Koch's afterguard. Since Matador� is about the same size as the new IACC boats, Koch and his designers felt confident their secret technological edge could be transferred.
Apparently, others had the same notion. Several months ago, Conner approached Koch about joining Team DC. Koch declined. "Every other syndicate wanted my technology," Koch told Barbara Lloyd of
The New York Times
. "That said to me that I had something of value."
In the mid-1980s, Koch challenged 22 naval architects to come up with a faster maxi-boat design. Twenty-two quarter-scale models were built and tank-tested, at enormous expense. Of that 22, the 12 fastest boats were then rigged and sailed on Nantucket Sound near Koch's summer home in Osterville, Mass. The result: Three virtually unknown naval architects—Bill Cook of Greenwich, Conn.; Buddy Duncan of Marblehead, Mass.; and Penn Edmonds of Cambridge, Mass.—won the job of designing the new Matador�.
Conventional wisdom says lighter means faster, whether one is building airplanes, automobiles or boats. Koch's Matador� design team ignored that time-honored concept. " Koch's people pushed the numbers around and found out that if they went with a super-heavy boat, they got a ratings break," says Pedrick.
The previously underutilized handicap ruling—International Offshore Rule (IOR) Mark 3A—is designed to give older, heavier boats a break against their newer competition. In other words, Matador� wins races because the IOR measurement system is tougher on lighter boats.
Pedrick says Matador's keel—a thin stainless-steel or carbon-fiber blade and trim tab, which supports a torpedolike ballast bulb—is unique for an offshore sailboat, but not for the IACC. The shape, Pedrick says, should become common on IACC boats.