Nance Frank's attention was riveted, watching the ESPN videotape of the wild second leg of the Whitbread Round the World race. She immediately recognized all the boats and all the sailors and related to their adventures with gale-force winds, icebergs, whales, snowball fights on deck and broken bones and spars.
"What they're doing is exactly what we wanted to do," Frank said.
Frank, skipper of the aborted U.S. Women's Challenge, was passing through Los Angeles with project director Rob Stephens to do a promotional video and solicit sponsors for the 1993-94 Whitbread, but it was hard to keep her mind off the current race.
"Right now they're in New Zealand, which is the most exciting stop in the race," she said. "If anything, I've got more determination to do this race, and (American) companies will see what a bonanza it is."
The 23 boats, about halfway along in the 32,932-nautical mile race, started the fourth, 6,255-nautical mile leg from Auckland to Punta Del Este, Uruguay on Sunday. Frank and her nine-person U.S. Women's Challenge crew were left behind when it started on Sept. 2 in England. They would have been the only American entry.
"We were completely ready to race," she said. "Everybody wanted us to race. We were at the starting line. All we needed was the money."
Frank, 39, is a former schoolteacher from Key West, Fla. She had chartered a boat but the owner wanted full payment before the start. In the past few days--even the last hours--before the start, she hung around the press room to be close to the phones to take calls from potential backers.
When the last hope called back to say no, she said, "I wanted to cry but I couldn't do it there. Where to do it? Down at the boat. But when I got down there, people were all over."
Finally, they all had a good cry at the starting line, watching the rest of the fleet sail away.
The race is a major sporting event--a nine-month Super Bowl--for most of the other countries involved, but Frank got far more attention in the foreign press than at home. Europeans were especially intrigued about the prospect of the first two all-women boats to compete--the other being England's Maiden, with skipper Tracy Edwards.
"Think of the race we would have had," Frank said. "In England I was doing 25 or 30 interviews a day--in French, Spanish, Portuguese and German."
Frank remains frustrated that American companies wouldn't back an American entry. The Soviet Union's entry also was touch and go until the last moment.
"The BBC did a commentary that here were the two superpowers just struggling to get to the line, and here's little New Zealand with everything together," Frank said.
New Zealand's two entries--Steinlager 2 and Fisher & Paykel--are currently first and third.
Frank would have been racing Edwards, the current leader, in the Division D handicap class. Next time she intends to compete in the all-out maxi class and will need a crew of 16.
"The crew was never a problem," she said. "Money was the only problem. Ninety-five percent of sailors are men, and if the sport is to grow, they have to get the other people involved. Women have paid their dues in the last 20 years. The '90s will be the decade of women. The company that enables us to do this will be a leader in marketing."
It's a good pitch, and Frank has a punch line, too.
"Europeans have been sponsoring sailing for 500 years," she said. "Columbus was the first sponsored sailor. (Queen) Isabella's name is known by everybody on the planet. Anyone who sponsors us will have just as much notoriety."
Rod Davis, the first sailor to win three Congressional Cups, won't defend his title at Long Beach March 14-17 because he can't afford to fly himself and a six-man crew from Auckland.
Davis, an American originally from Coronado, has been living in New Zealand since the 1986-87 America's Cup races and working for Michael Fay's syndicate. Fay paid the way for Davis and his crew to last year's Congressional, but has temporarily laid off his sailing personnel pending resolution of the long-running America's Cup court case.
Robbie Haines, for whom Davis crewed when they won a Soling gold medal in the '84 Olympics, will take his place.
Meanwhile, Davis, the third-ranked match-racing sailor in the world, stayed sharp Jan. 27-28 by skippering a New Zealand crew to victory over Australia's Peter Gilmour and Iain Murray in the second ANZ Australia Day 12-Meter Challenge at Sydney, sailing Kookaburra II and III. Davis, sponsored by BMW instead of Fay, won the last two races to claim the series, 4-3.
Davis didn't pass up the chance to needle Dennis Conner, who called him Benedict Davis when Davis went to work for the Kiwis. Conner ran aground trying to beat Gilmour and Murray a year ago "and was sent home with his tail between his legs," Davis said.
There was a third, somewhat overlooked fatality related to the Whitbread Round the World race. Besides the Soviet skipper who hanged himself during the first stopover at Punta Del Este, Uruguay, and the British crewman who went overboard in the Southern Ocean, a Swedish crewman was killed in a motorcycle accident in Uruguay. Janne Gustavsson from The Card ran head-on into another motorcycle ridden by Guy Schalkens of Belgium, who suffered only bruises and shock. Gustavsson wasn't wearing a helmet, a report said. . . . Meanwhile, things continue to go poorly for the Soviets. Short of money and haunted by the suicide of their skipper, the crewmen of the Fazisi are hoping sales of raffle tickets in Auckland on a luxury BMW will keep them in the race. The car was donated by a New Zealand company.
The Southern California Yachting Assn. will conduct a seminar on regatta sponsorship--in other words, how to get somebody to pay for your event--Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Hyatt Edgewater in Long Beach. Speakers will include Bruce Golison, founder of the successful Audi/North Race Week (June 22-24 at Long Beach), and Tom Ehman, executive vice president of San Diego's America's Cup Organizing Committee. A fee of $20 includes lunch. Information: (213) 433-7426. . . . Two important events will overlap in April, the 30th annual Olympic Classes Regatta at the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club April 6-8 and the biennial U.S. Yacht Club Challenge at Newport Beach April 4-7.
Marc Pajot, who sailed the 12-meter French Kiss at Fremantle in 1987, has launched the first of the new America's Cup boats, which are larger, lighter and faster than the obsolete 12s. The boat, dubbed F1, is designated as an experimental-development model and itself may be obsolete before the '92 competition.