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Hoping it's up to the challenge

New York Yacht Club/Young America team sets sail this month with the intention of meeting New Zealand in February.

Italy and Japan will be the teams to beat if local sailor Ed Baird and his crew representing the New York Yacht Club/Young America Challenge hope to face Team New Zealand in February at America's Cup 2000.

"We have been working hard now for four years to get to this point," Baird said Friday after a news conference announcing new sponsors in Newport, R.I. "The hard part now will be coming out on top in the Challenger series."

Baird, who learned his craft racing for the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, said the teams that have been practicing with two new boats stand the best chance of winning the right to sail against the defending champion.

The Young America Challenge, a consortium of seven yacht clubs including St. Petersburg, has some of the best sailors in the world on its team, including 11 America's Cup winners. The starting lineup and specific positions will be named closer to the start of racing for the Louis Vuitton Cup Challenger races that begin Oct. 18 in Auckland, New Zealand.

The first wave of sailors departs for New Zealand this month to tune up for the first of the team's two new International America's Cup Class racing yachts, USA 53. As part of Friday's ceremonies, the "techno shark" graphics in red, silver and gray were unveiled on a black, 25-foot tank test model displayed at the yacht club.

The second boat, USA 58, will arrive in New Zealand several weeks later. The entire team will be in Auckland by Sept. 15 for training and testing until racing begins in mid-October. Team members and their families are moving to Auckland for the duration of the America's Cup competition.

Thirteen challengers from eight nations will compete in the Louis Vuitton Cup Challenger races. All will compete in three round-robin series in October, November and December. The top six advance to a semifinals beginning Jan. 2. The top two meet in a final starting Jan.25. The winner faces Team New Zealand in the best-of-nine America's Cup match beginning Feb. 19, 2000.

Baird, who oversees the Young America's 1999-2000 America's Cup sailing team, played a key role in winning the 1995 America's Cup as coach, trial horse skipper and sparring partner for Russell Coutts and Team New Zealand. Baird was the 1995 world champion of match-race sailing and placed second at the worlds in 1997, 1996 and 1993. He is the only American to reach No. 1 in the world. The 1995 Rolex U.S. Yachtsman of the Year, Baird is a multiple world champion.

In 1998, Baird joined the Norwegian Whitbread Round the World race entry Innovation Kvaerner to provide strategic and tactical support for the final four legs of the marathon. In 1999, Baird won the Soling pre-Olympic trials and placed second at the Swedish Match Cup, a top event on the World Match Racing Circuit.

On board

In addition to Ed Baird and Kimo Worthington, the team's manager, the NYYC/Young America Sailing Team includes:

FLORIDA

Steve Calder, Delray Beach

Chris Cantrick, Fort

Lauderdale

Ryan McCrillis, Key West

RHODE ISLAND

Ed Adams, Newport

Tom Burnham, Newport

Jerry Kirby, Newport

Joan Touchette, Newport

Jamie Gale, Newport

Tony Rey, Newport

CONNECTICUT

Jim Brady, Cos Cob

Rock Ferrigno, New Haven

Chris Kam, Mystic

NEW ZEALAND

Stu Bettany, Auckland

Mark Christensen, Auckland

CALIFORNIA

Peter Fennelly, San Diego

Wally Henry, San Diego

MARYLAND

Ross Halcrow, Annapolis

Grant Spanhake, Annapolis

OTHER

Stu Argo, St. Clair Shores, Mich.

David Calverley, Austin, Texas

Jeff Ecklund, Wayzata, Minn.

Dave Tank, Chicago

Chad Vande Zande, Milwaukee

Ben Wagner, Upper Saddle River, N.J.

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