Defiant and America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• are mere sail triangles on the horizon. Bill Koch has missed the boat, so to speak, and now he's being taxied across the water on a speedy launch. He has foul-weather gear on, and the first wave that breaks over the bow covers his tortoiseshell glasses with salt water. The roiling sky is as gray as the warships berthed in San Diego Bay.
"The scale of this thing is unbelievable! It's like Operation Desert Storm!"
Koch's words, shouted over the engine roar and the wind, are an apparent reference to the logistical apparatus at his disposal. The young man at the wheel of the launch has radioed one of Koch's rubber-hulled tenders to rendezvous with the launch at the harbor mouth; other support boats circle the sail triangles in the distance. If Koch has any Walter Mitty in him, this is heady stuff.
The launch hammers into the first Pacific swells, making further conversation impossible. After a few hundred yards, the waiting tender sweeps alongside and nudges its bumpers against the launch. The two boats are pitching out of sync, but Koch leaps onto the tender, grabbing the windscreen to keep from falling. Immediately, the tender peels off and pursues the sailboats.
America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• is dead ahead now, no longer a sail triangle but a 75-foot International America's Cup Class (IACC) yacht plowing through the swells. On port tack she is heeled precariously to the right, her crew perched on the port side, high above the waves. The tender twice approaches the yacht but has to back away; the swells arc severe, the angle of heel too great. A third approach offers a window of opportunity: Hands reach over the transom of America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢•, Koch lunges, and the 51-year-old tycoon scrambles aboard the sailboat. Immediately, the raft tears off to safety.
Once aboard, Koch gets a quick briefing from his afterguard: helmsman Buddy Melges, 62, navigator Bill Campbell, 40, and tactician Dave Dellenbaugh, 38. If Koch wants to practice in heavy air, they tell him, he has picked the right day—the wind is blowing at 20 knots. Stressed lines crackle, the hull groans. The shivering sails sound like hail on a tin roof.
The water could be smoother farther out, so Koch radios Defiant, another of his IACC boats, to forge ahead. It's a gutsy call, because the new IACC yachts are as fragile as kites. The week before, in the third round of the Defender Selection Series leading to the America's Cup, Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes snapped its mast in 12- to 15-knot winds—a $250,000 to $1 million setback for the Conner syndicate, depending on whose numbers you believe.
"Tacking!" Koch's command is all but lost in the wind, but the grinders begin cranking furiously. The sail handlers scramble to starboard as the boom swings over the deck. America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• levels and then heels sharply left, shuddering and lurching through the waves.
The walkie-talkie crackles in Campbell's ear, and he shouts to Koch. Their meteorologist, on a support boat, says the wind has risen to 25 knots. A storm front is bearing down on San Diego.
Koch shakes his head and confers with his afterguard, who balance like roofers on the pitched deck, their faces close together. The decision is made: Campbell radios Defiant, and Melges barks orders to the crew to come about. America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• shows her stern to the wind, and the sail handlers drop the jib.
"We don't want to break the boat!" Koch yells. "We're going back to practice in the harbor!"
Suddenly there is no need to shout. The mainsail catches the wind for the run home, and America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• surges. The wind and hull noises cease; the ride is now as smooth as a jetliner's.
And Koch can't help himself—he grins. Steering a product of nautical technology that has consumed enough of his personal wealth to fund a presidential race, he watches the boat-speed numbers change on the digital liquid crystal display at the base of the mast: 14.8 knots...15.2...15.8....
He suddenly yells, "Look how fast we're going!"
Only a cynic would tell Koch he could go faster on a bicycle. He has the wind at his back, he is master of the waves, and, Toto, he's not in Kansas anymore.
The little "3" is pronounced cubed, and Koch is pronounced coke.
A year ago, few people outside the yacht-racing community could get both names right. Koch's previous flash of notoriety had been for his role in one of the most venomous family feuds in U.S. business, the ongoing struggle among four brothers over the assets of Koch Industries of Wichita. Kans. In the last nine years Bill Koch has filed five lawsuits and numerous related actions against his brothers and even his mother, and the rancor persists to a degree unimaginable outside a TV script. Indeed, Koch steps on the national stage like a character from Dallas or Dynasty: the billionaire yachtsman with Picassos on his walls and 130 years of Ch‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¢teau Lafite Rothschild in his wine cellar.
But would even the TV writers dare to give their hero a doctorate from MIT, a Palm Beach mansion and an estranged twin brother who escapes from a burning 737 after a crash? Would they give him an oilman father who built refineries for Stalin, and wound up as an anticommunist crusader? Would they dare write him lines like "Late at night I like Modigliani, but in the afternoon I prefer a Remington of a man shooting a moose just as the sun is going down"?
A dilettante. That was the take on Koch last May at the IACC World Championships, held in the waters off San Diego. He was not a sailor at all, yachtsmen said, but an alchemist—an egghead with wild ideas about yacht design. He had no experience in small boats, no Olympic medals. His two world championships in maxi-class yachts? Bought, they said, not won. The man from Kansas had simply built a boat, Matador¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢¬ß, that was so fast that no one could catch him.
The worlds did little to enhance Koch's stature. Jayhawk, the first IACC boat built by Koch's America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• syndicate, finished sixth, and Koch drew smirks for suggesting that the naval architects who drew up specs for IACC yachts were "idiots." The consensus was that Koch had started his America's Cup program too late—a year behind the Italians, the Japanese and the Kiwis—and that neither science nor wealth could make up for his shortcomings in seamanship and experience. Two esteemed helmsmen-tacticians, Gary Jobson and John Kostecki, left America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• after the worlds over disagreements in philosophy with Koch. Jobson wanted Koch to choose his top 16-man crew sooner than Koch was willing.
A year later the wind seems to have swung around. Koch's second boat, Defiant, launched last July, surpassed Jayhawk. His third, America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢•, soundly whipped Conner's Stars & Stripes in the second and third rounds of the Defender Selection Series, which began in January. In desperation, Team Dennis Conner took saws and sandpaper to Stars & Stripes, opening up the transom and shaving the mast to gain speed—the sailing equivalent of tossing all the passengers' luggage out of an airplane to maintain altitude.
These adjustments and his formidable sailing skills have kept Conner in the game, but just barely. Over the weekend, Koch's America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• clinched a slot in the defender finals by outracing Stars & Stripes and Kama (Koch's newest boat, launched in March) in consecutive races. That left Conner, a three-time America's Cup champion, in the embarrassing position of having to win Monday afternoon's tiebreaker with Kanza just to get to the best-of-13 finals, which begin April 18. Conner did win, but unless he has been holding his face cards till the end—an unlikely premise, given his brush with elimination—it is just possible that Bill Koch, the most intriguing figure in yacht racing since Ted Turner won the America's Cup with Courageous in 1977, will defend the Cup next month.
Win or lose, Koch will have paid an extraordinary price—$55 million at last count, much of it his own money. The America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• syndicate has 150 people on its payroll—sailors, coaches, office workers, janitors, security guards, marketing specialists, scientists, spies, computer whizzes, 'it's horrendous." Koch says, looking a little dazed. "If I'd known how much it would cost and how much effort it would take, I wouldn't have done it. But once you mount a tiger, how do you get off?"
In Wichita they wonder who really has the claws. While Koch was busy sailing last month, the people at Koch Industries were fuming over the private detective they caught going through the garbage of attorneys working on the various Koch lawsuits. Koch Industries obtained a restraining order against Bill, which was lifted after he admitted he had hired the detective.
"Billy is obsessive, unstable," says Donald Cordes, executive vice-president for legal and corporate affairs at Koch Industries. "He has done some pretty horrendous things to Koch Industries. He treats these legal battles with his brothers like a competition, the way other brothers might look at a game of H-O-R-S-E in the backyard."
George Ablah, a prominent Wichita businessman and longtime friend of the Koch family, agrees. "I think it's all a onesided vendetta," he says. "Billy is a kind of troublemaker, and he has a problem with not being the boss."
If the sniping sounds petty, the stakes are not. Koch Industries is the second-largest privately held company in the U.S., a diversified oil giant with 12,000 employees and $16 billion a year in revenues. Reclusive Fred R. Koch, 58, the oldest brother, lives mostly in Monte Carlo and London and spends a reported $20 million a year on his art collection. Charles Koch, 56, is CEO of Koch Industries and lives in Wichita. David Koch, Bill's twin and an executive vice-president of Koch Industries, lives in New York City and entertains in St. Tropez. For one party, the handsome bachelor chartered a 163-foot yacht that once belonged to a Saudi prince, saying, with eerie prescience, "It's incredible how a boat can attract people."
As a study in wealth accumulation, the Koch family saga is almost without peer. Fred C. Koch, the son of a small-town Texas newspaper publisher, started out in the 1920s with $200 and a chemical engineering degree from MIT. His breakthrough idea: a thermal cracking process to increase the gasoline yield of crude oil. In the late '20s he took his technology to the Soviet Union, where he built 15 refineries under the first of Stalin's five-year plans. From 1945 to 1952 Koch was locked in restraint-of-trade litigation against many of the major U.S. oil companies, which had been filing patent-infringement suits against independent oil producers using the Koch process. Koch finally received a $1.5 million settlement.
"Fred Koch, the father, was a real John Wayne type," says Sterling Varner, a former president of Koch Industries. Stern and usually undemonstrative, the elder Koch was away from home for months at a time, but he made sure his four sons were shielded from what he called "country-club attitudes." The Koch boys worked summers at the family ranch in western Kansas. They were taught to ride horses, hunt and fish like "real men." They accompanied their father on safaris in Africa and polar-bear hunts in the Arctic Circle. "The old man didn't put up with any——," says Varner. "He was papa, and that was that."
Over time, Fred Koch's rugged individualism took on a cranky, paranoid edge. Enraged by the liquidation of some of his Russian business colleagues in the purges of the '30s, the oil magnate became a fervent Communist-baiter, a member of the first advisory board to the John Birch Society. In a broadside titled A Business Man Looks at Communism, published in 1960, Koch accused the Reds of plotting a U.S. "race war," attacked labor unions, denounced the U.S. Supreme Court for "pro-Communist decisions" and condemned modern art because of its association with Picasso, "an admitted Communist."
By all accounts, the Koch boys loved and respected their father, but his standards were hard to live up to. Freddy decided he preferred the pursuit of culture to the pursuit of big game and was disinherited by his disappointed father when he was 33. (Freddy's wealth derives from a childhood trust and another distribution that gave him 14% of the family business.) That opened the door for Charles to succeed his father.
"Charles is by far the most astute and capable of the Koch boys," says one Koch Industries insider. "David and Bill are both capable, but Charles is a superstar." Charles became head of the company in 1967, the year his father died. Since then the annual revenues of Koch Industries have grown from $250 million to $16 billion. His father's son, Charles contributes to conservative causes and persuaded David to run for vice-president on the 1980 Libertarian party ticket headed by Ed Clark.
While Charles was cementing his position in Wichita in the early '60s, the Koch twins were off at MIT, where David captained the basketball team and Bill warmed the bench. Bill's critics point to this to support their belief that his lawsuits are a product of sibling rivalry and jealousy.
David, in fact, worked for various other companies after earning his master's in chemical engineering from MIT in 1963. When David joined Koch Industries in 1970, Bill was still at MIT, completing his doctorate. And when Bill finally came aboard, "he didn't like details, or the grind," according to Varner. "Billy doesn't like to look in one window too long," Varner once said. "He's a lot better at ideas than at getting the job done."
Bill was no happier with Charles and David than they were with him. Among his grievances were Charles's "autocratic" management style, the brothers' use of company funds for right-wing political activities (Bill describes himself as a political independent) and the company's paltry dividend payment of 7% of annual earnings. "I had to borrow money to buy a house," Bill complained, "and I'm one of the wealthiest men in America."
Getting nowhere with the strong-willed Charles. Bill led the equally disgruntled Freddy and a group of minority shareholders in a 1980 proxy fight to seize control of the company. Charles caught on and fired Bill. Three years later, after heated litigation. Bill and Fred sold their Koch shares back to the company for an estimated total of $800 million.
That should have ended the feud, but things just got nastier. Questions arose about the value of the shares the outcast brothers had sold. "It's a simple thing," says Bill. "I sold my stock back to them at a cheap price. They didn't disclose certain assets to me. I asked them to pay me what the true value was, and they told me to jump in the lake. So I said, 'Fine. I'll sue you." "
David, as bright and congenial as his twin, shakes his head over that version of events. "I don't buy what Billy says about it being a business dispute," he says. "It's personal. It's more a question of principle, of honesty among brothers, of treating our mother with kindness, respect and sympathy."
This last remark is a reference to Mary Koch, who died in 1990 at age 83. A Wellesley graduate with roots in Kansas City's upper crust, the Koch matriarch watched helplessly in her declining years as her sons squabbled. In 1987 Bill and Freddy sued her, Charles and David over their management of the charitable Fred C. Koch Foundation, claiming that the three had broken an oral agreement stipulating that shareholders in the foundation would determine where its donations went in proportion to the shareholders' stock ownership. Bill charged that Mary, Charles and David had agreed among themselves that the foundation's five-member board, on which they held a majority, would decide on all donations. Since the supposed oral agreement was unenforceable, the case was dismissed. Upon Mary's death, Bill and Fred contested a provision of her will that denied a share of her $10 million legacy to any son with an active suit against a family member. Bill and Freddy lost the case and are appealing; Bill has offered to give up his share of his mother's money if his brothers will agree to give estate proceeds to apolitical charities.
In a separate action, Bill and Freddy accused their brothers of scheming to steal oil from oil producers. The case was dismissed, but in the meantime, Charles and David sued Bill over the disposition of the family homestead in Wichita, which covers more than 150 acres, and their father's gold coin collection. In the end, Bill sold Charles and David his interest in the homestead, and they sold him their interest in the coins.
Given the depth of ill will, everybody involved was surprised last fall when Bill suggested that David come to San Diego and sail with him in some of the defender races. In his New York City office, David says, "I'd love to, but he has accused me of so many awful things. I mean, how could I do something like that with someone who is suing me?"
Still, blood is thicker than water, or in this case, salt water. Last year David turned down an offer to be chairman of Team Dennis Conner. "I gave Dennis money for all his earlier campaigns," David says, "and I would have supported him generously if he were not racing against Billy. But I told him that while I don't like the way Billy has conducted himself, I do have affection for him as a brother, and I would like to see Billy win the America's Cup.
"I can't bet against my brother."
Bill Koch enters the room, takes in the dozen or so women waiting on sofas and folding chairs and gulps. He says to the women, I understand you guys are all mad at me."
He has come down from his America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• office to put out a fire. His female staffers are upset that a team party to be held the next night at Koch's house is to be augmented with pretty women from outside—"bimbos," it's rumored among the staffers. Koch, blushing, explains that crew members had complained after the last party that there hadn't been enough women to dance with, and he had promised to rectify the situation. He says there will be no "sleazy girls," just nice women, volleyball players, "because it's my home, and I'm an elegant guy, and I want to maintain the elegance."
In no time the women are laughing. The meeting breaks up with Koch promising that, if the women want, he'll invite a couple of male models to the party for balance.
"The important thing," Koch says afterward, "is that I listen to their concerns and let them air their opinions. Then the problem goes away."
Your first impression of Koch, if you meet him outside a courtroom, is that he is guileless—open in the way of many Mid-westerners, blunt but without a trace of meanness. "I'm surprised when I read all this nasty stuff about Billy," says Kippie Fleming, a first cousin who lives in Wichita. "I never heard him say bad things about anyone. He's sweet, like a big teddy bear."
"I don't think any of the descriptions you read in the paper—obsessive, unstable—characterize Billy in the least," says 82-year-old William I. Robinson, Mary Koch's brother. "Except maybe in the minds of those who dislike him so much. Billy is a very compassionate guy, unlike the rest of his family."
Taking a visitor on a tour of his traveling art collection—a breathtaking display of sculpture and paintings that chokes the $30,000-a-month house he rents on Point Loma—Koch moves briskly past a Monet, a Cèzanne, a Grant Wood, two Remingtons...and lingers at a framed photograph of his five-year-old son, Wyatt. "Here's the best work of all." Koch says. "I love him more than I've loved anything in my entire life."
Koch also finds inspiration in his Kansas roots. The Flint Hills—a beautiful stretch of hilly prairie in south-central Kansas that, in a certain light, resembles a storm-tossed ocean—moved him to name his most recent yacht Kanza. Koch flew six members of the Kansa tribe, whose name means "people of the south wind," to San Diego for the boat's christening.
As for the feud, Koch says he would welcome a truce: "I've tried to speak to Charles half a dozen times over the past 10 years or so. I tried to shake his hand at our mother's funeral, but he just walked away. He has become quite emotional about all of this." David, he says, has been civil—which explains Bill's standing offer that they make up and go sailing together. "In Kansas," Bill says, "they've got a saying: 'If you're going out for revenge, dig two graves. One for your enemy and one for yourself.' And I don't want to do that. Revenge is not productive."
Productivity matters to Koch; he is, after all, an entrepreneur, a man who owns geothermal electric plants, commercial real estate and assorted high-tech enterprises. At Oxbow Corporation—an alternative-energy company in Palm Beach. Fla., that he founded after selling his Koch Industries shares—and in America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢•, Koch sees his managerial forte as "bringing all the pieces together, putting the right people in the right spots and letting them do their thing."
"Bill's not looking over your shoulder every two minutes," says helmsman Melges. "He gives you the kind of freedom that a person likes to have, freedom to excel at the highest level."
Koch is a self-described "contrarian," but he seems genuinely pained and embarrassed by the family feud and determined not to let it infect the rest of his life. "You might say I've tried to create my own family out here," he says, "an organization where I have good brother relationships rather than bad ones."
Ever the engineer, Koch has tried to quantify this concept. He grades his team members on Attitude, Teamwork and Talent, assigning a number from 1 to 10 for each attribute. "People had to have a 9 or 10 in the first two categories to get on the boat," he says. Talent, surprisingly, is secondary: "You don't have to have all stars to have a winning team."
To underscore this point, Koch likes to use the example of his college basketball team, the mighty MIT Engineers. When Bill and David were freshmen, the slide-rule-wielding varsity won only three games. The next year, when the Kochs were elevated to the varsity and new head coach Jack Barry was brought in, the Engineers...lost all but one game. "We were just not good basketball players," Bill recalls. "We had only one player who could have made the varsity on any other team in the nation, and that was my brother."
The payoff, of course, is that Koch et al. won more than half their games as juniors, and as seniors they had, at one point, the longest winning streak in the country (15 games). "What the coach did is that he organized the team to compensate for every-body's weaknesses." says Koch. "One guy couldn't dribble, so [Barry] said, 'You just stand here.' Another guy could shoot from outside but not inside, so he said, 'O.K., your job is shooting over here.' He divided the team up to maximize the guys' strengths, and then he emphasized complete teamwork and instilled in us the attitude that we MIT nerds could win. That's been a powerful lesson to me and one that I'm adapting now for the America's Cup."
Teamwork is fine, Koch's critics say, but you can carry it too far. Koch waited until just last week to decide which of his two boat crews he would use against Stars & Stripes in the defender finals. He has been just as reluctant to settle on a helmsman. (The running joke is that Koch's boat is being driven by Will Vary.) During round three of the defender series, America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• had three helmsmen per race: tactician Dellenbaugh on the starting line, then Melges and Koch taking turns out on the course. Early in the semis, Koch and Dellenbaugh moved between boats as a team; Koch shared the driving with Melges on Kama and with Kimo Worthington on America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢•. By the end of the semis, Koch, Melges and Worthington were alternating at the helm according to wind conditions. Stars & Stripes, meanwhile, always has Conner at the helm. And if Koch gets past Conner, he'll face another superstar helmsman in the America's Cup finals—cither Paul Cayard (Italy) or Rod Davis (New Zealand).
All true, says Koch, but he has the genie in the bottle: technology. More than any other campaign in Cup history, Koch's is science driven, steeped in tank and wind-tunnel tests, computer models and material innovations. Conner tried to buy Koch's Matador technology before Koch decided to mount a Cup campaign, and so did several other aspiring defenders. Koch's innovations keep coming—keel and hull shapes, new hardware configurations and now a possible breakthrough in sail technology: a lightweight sailcloth made of carbon fiber, liquid crystals and high-density, high-molecular-weight polymers.
Koch himself is given credit for the experimental sails. He read an article about liquid crystals and conceived the idea of a sail whose fibers could realign themselves for maximum strength according to how they were stressed. This and other examples of unconventional thinking are what make America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• a serious threat, say Cup observers—even those who once thought of the "Cubens" as comic relief.
Not all of Koch's ideas spring from his own fertile mind. Koch is said to excel in the covert side of R&D: spying. Cayard griped in February that America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• was dogging his Italian yacht, Il Moro di Venezia, in a small boat outfitted with cameras and electronic gear—what Conner jokingly called "laser guns, gazebos and popcorn machines."
Koch's retort: "Paul is under a great deal of pressure...and I think he's just whining."
Conner later said that he had seen no evidence that Koch had gone "beyond the rules." and America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• vice-president Vince Moeyersoms was among those to endorse a proposal in March that keels be left unskilled, for all to see, in future America's Cups. But Conner enjoys a sly dig at Koch over this war in the shadows. "My spy helicopter is still in my dreams." he said last month, "and my spy boat has yet to show up."
Like Koch himself, the America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• campaign invites speculation about what lies below the waterline.
What galls Koch's sailing critics, of course, is his presumption. When Koch slammed the naval architects who designed the International America's Cup Class, Raul Gardini, the Italian industrialist behind Il Moro di Venezia, called him "a clown." And everybody but Bozo has criticized the cheeky Kansan for taking the helm so often—the proper role of an IACC yacht owner being to pay the bills and then watch the races from the spectator fleet. Koch's rejoinder is that while he has only been racing yachts for eight years, he has been sailing for longer than his detractors allow.
He got his first taste of boating at age 13, when his parents decided to send him to Culver Military Academy in Indiana—"because I was recalcitrant and they thought I needed discipline," he says. Told that he had to go to one of Culver's summer schools first, he opted for the naval program at Lake Maxinkuckee, Ind. "After that," he says, "I always wanted to sail."
Boats were a once-a-year thing for Koch at MIT, but when he got out of school, he vowed to buy the biggest boat he could find when he had enough cash. His first purchase, in 1984, was a 75-foot Hood cruiser, on which he took his wife. Joan, and some friends down to the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.
"I found that when I was sailing on the boat, I wanted to push it," Koch says. He and his passengers were stranded for a week on St. Barts when they had trouble getting fuel and water. Once they were supplied, the weather turned bad. Fed up, Koch tried to sail into 10-foot waves and 35-knot winds. Joan, belowdecks, was thrown to the floor and hurt her back. After crying for 10 minutes, she went up on deck and screamed, "Billy, stand this——boat up straight! Now!"
Koch turned the boat around. "I quickly determined that the only way I was going to have any fun in yachting was not cruising but racing," he says.
Eventually he began racing maxis, which go 80 feet in length and carry a crew of up to 30. He named his first maxi Matador after one of his father's Texas ranches, had a Picasso bull painted on the spinnaker and started buying up high-priced sailing talent. "I thought if I got all the best sailors in the world on it, we'd go out and win everything. I was wrong. We came in last."
The problem, as Koch saw it, was that everyone had his own agenda—one trimmer didn't like the helmsman, another wouldn't use sails he hadn't sold to Koch himself, and the French crew members swore at Koch's friends. "It was a nightmare," Koch says. "So I threw all the stars off, including a couple of guys who had helped win the America's Cup and some Olympic medalists. I said, 'I'd rather sail with my friends.' "
Thus, Koch's Corollary Number One: THERE IS ONLY ONE EGO, AND THAT IS THE BOAT'S.
Next, Koch went around to some 20 yacht designers, soliciting designs. Nautical architects, he concluded, built what looked fast, but they had no empirical evidence. "I'd ask each one what made a boat go fast, and he'd give mystical explanations, not scientific ones," he says.
Koch's Corollary Number Two: BOAT SPEED IS A SCIENCE, NOT AN ART.
"I said to our group at the time, 'Look, none of us can really tell what is a fast boat,' " Koch says. " 'So let's go out and get 30 different designs—a very light small boat, a very heavy big boat, short fat ones, long skinny ones.' We found that there was a cluster of yachts that were all very similar, and others that were either much faster or much slower. I said. 'Let's compare the two extremes. What makes one boat slow and the other fast?' And by doing that, we were able to evolve some new hydrodynamic theories of yacht design that allowed us to come up with Matador¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢¬ß."
The new boat—tagged with a "2" instead of the customary "II" because Koch judged the improvement to be at least "to the power of two"—flew in the face of accepted design practices. The average maxi weighs 90,000 pounds, for instance, but Matador¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢¬ß weighed 100,000 pounds. Trim tabs on keels to give boats more lift had been discredited, but Koch's keel had a tab. The Matador program consumed five years of tank testing, computer modeling and sailing trials on one-quarter-scale models, and the research finally paid off: Koch's team won the 1990 and 1991 Maxi World Championships.
For his Cup campaign Koch has retained the key technical people from Matador and several of his maxi afterguard, including navigator By Baldridge, tactician Andreas Josenhans and main trimmer Per Andersson. all of whom had the giddy experience of beating Conner and Cayard in the big boats. The key questions to be answered now are 1) How much will Koch drive his boat in the defender finals, and 2) Will America¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢• or Kanza—Koch can choose either for the finals—be fast enough to win when he does?
Koch is frank about his shortcomings. He has taken private sailing lessons, going out off Point Loma with Melges and a four-man crew in a 38-foot Class A scow, an instrumentless and keelless sailboat that flips over when mishandled. "The idea is to imprint a little more of what horizon means, the angle of heel," says Melges, the 1972 Olympic Soling-class champion and a three-time Yachtsman of the Year. "It's a tool to use in helping Bill close the gap between himself and Paul Cayard or Rod Davis, who have been sailing for more than 20 years."
Although Koch seems to have decided that for the next two weeks his team's helmsman will be Will Vary, "I think it's Bill's clear goal to steer as much as he can," says Jobson. "And he's better than people give him credit for."
Whether Koch drives his own boat or not is a big or little issue. depending on where you're coming from. For folks in Wichita, it is not a pressing matter. "For the most part, they are amused by this America's Cup thing," says Harry Litwin, an old friend of Fred C. Koch's. "They think he's wasting a lot of money."
David Koch—who escaped with severe smoke inhalation and bruises in February 1991 when USAir flight 1493 collided with a commuter plane on a runway in Los Angeles—sees greater risks for his brother: "I think it has to be a tremendous letdown for Billy when all this America's Cup stuff is over, even if Billy wins. 'My god,' he must think, I spent all this money, and for what? For this cup?' "
In his office, listening to the beat of rain on the roof and watching gusts pummel the blue skirts on Kanza across the compound, Bill Koch shrugs off the risks. "I'm sure if I win the America's Cup, I'll say it's been a great success," he says. "And if I lose it. I'll still say it's been a success. I'll probably binge on some of my wine collection for a week, no matter what."
He smiles placidly. "And then I'll go find some other mountain to climb, some other passion or love. I don't know why, but I like taking on challenges that people think can't be met and then meeting them. And meeting them in a way I think is totally reasonable and totally logical but totally against the way everybody else does it."
He's a contrarian¬¨¬®‚Äö√¢•, a Don Quixote tilting at the wind instead of at windmills. But as Dennis Conner has recently discovered—and as Koch's brothers already knew—William I. Koch is at his best when the wind rises.