America's Cup Boats Ramblings From the Dockside

America's Cup Boat "Jayhawk" | The Wichita Connection

Friday, April 07, 2017S.V. CAMBRIA

Do you remember Mighty Mary? The America’s Cup boat that was crewed by an all-women’s team in 1995 (until David Dellenbaugh was brought in as helmsman and tactician prior to the first race). They lost to Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes during the defender’s trials and never made it to the “big dance” to compete against Team New Zealand’s Black Magic, the eventual winner.

What you may not remember is how they got there in the first place.

Bill Koch, the litigious sibling of the infamous Koch brothers, put together a syndicate to win the America’s Cup in the early 90s called America3 (pronounced cubed). He didn’t have much respect in the competitive world of sailing: He was considered an amateur. A hick from the sticks. An egghead with more money than skill. But this blog post isn’t really about him. It’s about one of his boats, Jayhawk. 

Koch recruited a team of engineers from MIT, his alma mater, and spared no expense, using cutting edge technology in the design of the new IACC boats (International America’s Cup Class) he would use to compete. The first boat built was called Jayhawk (USA-9). And it wasn’t anything to write home about, coming in sixth at the IACC championships in 1991.

The syndicate kept at it, however, and built a total of four boats for the 1992 regatta: Defiant (USA-18), Kanza (USA-28 – named after the Kaw Indian Nation) and America3 (USA -23 – the fastest of the four). 

America3 came up against Dennis Conner in the defender trials. Koch primarily used Jayhawk and Defiant in the series – Kanza had a crack in a bulkhead and America3 wouldn’t be available until late in the trials. Jayhawk continued its poor performance, coming in at 0 for 5. Defiant was a faster boat, though, and won all of its races. America3, the best of the fleet, would go on to win the America’s Cup (along with Defiant) on behalf of the San Diego Yacht Club, beating the Italians led by Paul Cayard. Koch’s investment in technology had paid off. But Jayhawk’s poor performance made it redundant and it was retired at the end of round one, eventually finding its way to Wichita, Kansas

But why? Why Wichita? A city in the middle of the prairie?

Photo by Jonathan Becker of Getty Images
The answer is simple: Bill Koch is a Wichita native, and in 1993 he made a generous donation to help restore the city’s historic boathouse and give Jayhawk a new permanent home. The goal was to help foster interest in sailing through boat rentals and classes, but that part of the venture failed years ago. Now the boathouse is a popular venue for hosting business events and weddings.  Jayhawk is still there, though, and continues to stand proudly, its tall mast out of place along the banks of the shallow Arkansas River

Which America’s Cup boats have you seen over the years? What do you think of the hydrofoil series? Should they have made the change from monohulls? Join the conversation in our comments section below or on our Facebook page.

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  1. Beautiful! We were just discussing how apparent wind hurts my brain, and Matt pointed out that America's Cup boats are always sailing upwind because they are that fast! I don't think I could handle sailing an America's Cup boat!

    1. When we were in New Zealand, we used to see the cup boats practicing in the Hauraki Gulf on a regular basis and then at Viaduct Basin where the syndicates were based. It was pretty awesome, actually, but we lost interest once they went to the hydrofoils. I definitely don't think I'd want to sail on one of those, especially after watching the episode of Top Gear where James May races up the coast on the NZ boat against Jeremy Clarkson (who's in a rental car). It looked brutal!

  2. That does seem a little incongruous, but cool nonetheless.

    1. Definitely incongruous. But I love having a big, beautiful sailboat nearby whenever we're visiting family. It makes me feel more at home. :-)