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  Friday, 1 June, 2001, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Harrison's cash plea
Peter Harrison at the launch of his GBR Challenge bid
"I'm not a back of the envelope type of guy"
Peter Harrison, the man bankrolling Britain's America's Cup campaign, tells BBC Sport Online he's prepared to pull the plug if he doesn't get financial support.

In recent years, the America's Cup has been something of a graveyard for British folly.

In the 1980s there was Peter de Savary, the brash property magnate who signed up employment services company Blue Arrow for his second bid in a fanfare of publicity.

But the campaign turned sour when a Department of Trade inquiry was launched into the deal.

And in the 1990s there were two well-meaning but misguided attempts by enthusiasts convinced all that was needed to rustle up 15m was a few phone calls and some string pulling.

New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts holds the America's Cup aloft
America's Cup: Pinnacle of match racing
They both foundered dismally due to the lack of readies.

This time finding the capital necessary to launch a bid has not been a problem, thanks to Peter Harrison, who is bankrolling the current GBR Challenge to the tune of 7m.

But if corporate Britain does not display similar wallet activity, Harrison is quite prepared to pull the plug.

The Cheshire-born entrepreneur made 300m when he sold his technology companies at the top of the market last year and is still sitting on shares worth around 26m.

Harrison maybe somewhat chuffed at his good fortune ("I look at myself in the mirror when I am shaving and I can't help smiling and thinking 'what bloody good timing you have Harrison'," he tells me.)

But he is no moneyed fool with a bottomless pocket for greasing his vanity.


I have built into the agreement the right to cease the business with the agreement of the directors if the money is not forthcoming
Peter Harrison
He is a sailing enthusiast who considers himself a tough and knowledgeable competitor. Though far below the level of America's Cup, the 64-year-old has competed in several long-distance races and is very proud of the Rorc Seahorse Trophy he won as captain of the winning amateur boat in last year's Commodore's Cup.

Harrison's challenge may be doomed to failure - it is 14 years since Britain last mounted a credible campaign and in yacht design terms, that is several lifetimes.

But it will not be for want of determination and attention to detail that characterised his business success.

Not a man to do things by halves, Harrison spent nine months quietly but efficiently surveying the lie of the land before taking the plunge and announcing his campaign at the beginning of the year.

In three quick moves he assembled his building blocks;

  • splashing out 2m on Japan's discarded America's Cup boats and seven container loads of equipment
  • Spending an undisclosed sum on a nine-acre disused shipyard in Cowes
  • Signing up Olympic medallist Ian Walker as his skipper, designer Rob Humphrey and Kiwi David Barnes, an America's Cup veteran, as his team manager.

Team New Zealand will host the winning challenger in March 2003
Team New Zealand will host the winning challenger in March 2003
"I am not a back of the envelope type of guy who's just having a bash," says Harrison.

"That's not my style.

"I like to think I follow the words of the Duke of Wellington, who, when for the secret of his military success, would reply:

"'An infinite capability to take pains and the knowledge of what's on the other side of the hill.'

"I realise we have not just a hill but a massive mountain to climb, but we will get there."

Harrison is a straight-talker who is already finding the rigid protocols of the America's Cup, which favour the holder enormously, frustrating.

He is already making noises about suggesting changes to make it easier for challengers to upset the defending champion.

And he has no qualms about selling space on his boat to the highest bidder if it helps attract extra cash.

Boat Designer Rob Humphreys
Humpreys: Designed Ellen MacArthur's Kingfisher
Under the race rules, there is scope for a 17th non-sailing crew member to join the boat at any time.

With up to 20 races in the challenger series alone, Harrison knows it could be a valuable carrot for potential sponsors, to whom Harrison is looking for another 15m.

Now paying the wages of 47 full-time staff, he sees himself as the catalyst of British re-entry into America's Cup, not the sugar daddy.

But if the money doesn't show up, will he bridge the shortfall to achieve his dream?

Harrison's too canny to fall into that trap.

"I'm not going to say yes and I'm not going to say no. If I say yes, who else is going to cough up?

Egg on face

"But I have built into the agreement with Rorc, the Royal Ocean Yacht Club under whose banner we are challenging, the right to cease the business with the agreement of the directors if the money is not forthcoming."

And the directors are? Harrison and his daughter, Mrs Julie Harrison-Leigh.

"I do not envisage that happening but if I get fed up that no-one else is coming with me, then I will not have dug myself into a black hole.

"It will of course be enormous egg on face but I'll be able to say 'Well none of you other British blighters were prepared to put up the money'.

"I'd have to write off the six or seven million I'd have spent so far. "But at least I'd have a shipyard and some boats."

"I am not making a policy statement, but if I felt no-one was that bothered then I would hold back.

"We are the fifth biggest economy in the world, if we cannot raise an America's Cup bid then who can?"


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