AMERICA'S CUP : Even for Koch, 'the Money Is Obscene' : America's Cup: Head of defender syndicate says he has spent $64 million and would not do it again.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Koch the capitalist looks at Bill Koch the sailor and allows that as a businessman, he's a pretty fair sailor.

The America 3 boss, who opens defense of the America's Cup against Italy's Il Moro di Venezia today, says the campaign has become too expensive and the spy games have gotten out of hand.

"The money is obscene," says Koch, who says he has spent $64 million, about 10% of his worth.

"It's too much. It could be better spent. If I had known it would cost this much there is no way in hell I would have done it."

When he started his campaign two years ago, he thought he would be able to do it for about $15 million, with another $5 million set aside as a "contingency."

As costs escalated through the construction of four boats, based on expensive research and testing programs, he started having second thoughts.

"Two or three times I thought about dropping out," Koch said, "but once you mount a tiger you can't get off."

If Koch were to win, the San Diego Yacht Club would retain custody of the Cup, but he isn't sure he would try to defend it in 1995.

"If I didn't have to spend $64 million I probably would," he said. "If I could spend $10 or $15 million, sure, I would. If the yacht club wants me to defend it, I'll tell them, 'You help me raise the $64 million.' "

Koch is said to have spent $2 million on sophisticated espionage operations to seek out his rivals' secrets.

"More than that," he said. "It makes me sick."

A large part of that expense was Guzzini, the notorious spy boat loaded with electronics to track rivals' performances.

Koch has a solution: "Eliminate the (keel) skirts and secrets and have everything open. . . . Put all of the America's Cup defenders and challengers together in one big long compound so it could attract a lot of people. Everybody could see what everybody else is doing, and you wouldn't spend a lot of money spying. And you wouldn't spend a lot of money on counter-intelligence, trying to protect yourself."

Koch also says the boats should be built and maintained less expensively by eliminating the process to cure the carbon-fiber hulls and modifying the ballast rule so designers wouldn't make them so flimsy.

"They break every day," Koch said. "Our maintenance budget is more than our sailing budget."

Also, he said, eliminating the three reaching legs on the race course would save millions on the special gennaker sails required.

The reaches, which involve no maneuvers, generally have been the only legs in which Koch has been trusted to steer the boat--an ongoing issue in this event.

"There's nothing wrong with my driving skills," he said. "I'm good enough to be on the boat. I'm not the best in the world. I'm not the worst. Buddy (Melges) is better in many conditions. That's why Buddy steers a lot. And Buddy has a cooler head. I get a little flustered at times when I first get on the wheel.

"I want to be on the boat. I want to participate. I want to be a crew member."

That's OK. He's paying for it.

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