Billionaire: 'Get me the biggest Kiwi flag'

By Dana Johannsen

Jim Clark with his Australian wife, Kirsty Hinze. Photo / Getty Images
Jim Clark with his Australian wife, Kirsty Hinze. Photo / Getty Images

A US billionaire flying the New Zealand flag from his superyacht berthed in the America's Cup village says he has been asked by an associate of Sir Russell Coutts to take it down.

Disgusted by the cheating scandal that enveloped Oracle Team USA, Jim Clark has been proudly flying the New Zealand ensign and Team NZ supporters flag from his 90m superyacht, Athena, for the past week - apparently much to the disapproval of Sir Russell, chief executive of the US team.

Mr Clark, co-founder of Netscape and Silicon Graphics, said Sir Russell had told a friend - "a well-known American sailor [who] has been staying on my yacht" - that he wanted Mr Clark to fly the United States flag instead.

Mr Clark, whose wealth is estimated at $1.35 billion, has links to New Zealand. Athena was re-fitted in Auckland in 2011 by Orams Marine Services, and he has been involved in a couple of technology projects with New Zealand firms.

But he said he became a fervent Team NZ supporter only after learning of Oracle Team USA's conduct during the cheating scandal.

"I'm from [the US] and I would have otherwise been happy to see the Cup stay here. But once I heard about how the cheating stuff was being handled and no one was taking responsibility, I said, 'Right, get me the biggest Kiwi flag you can find.' I put a stake in the ground.

"I've been telling people, if they ask me why I don't support the home team, 'Because I don't support cheaters'."

Athena has been berthed alongside Oracle owner Larry Ellison's 288ft superyacht Musashi in a section of the America's Cup Park known as "techie-billionaire row". Berthed on the other side of Musashi - and in between Mr Ellison's other yacht, Asahi - is Senses, owned by his rival, Larry Page of Google.

Mr Clark said he would like to see Team NZ win the Cup as he believed they would do a better job of reining in the costs to compete. His wife, Australian supermodel Kristy Hinze, would also like to see the Cup back here so they can spend more time in the Southern Hemisphere.

"It's not pleasant to see the way the event has been run here," Mr Clark said. "I'm supporting a team that will be a bit more rational, and make it more accessible for other teams to enter. Sailing is no fun if there are no people involved."

Asked if he would consider mounting a Cup challenge himself should Team NZ win in San Francisco, Mr Clark said: "I've got enough money, but I'm not going to blow $200 million to get my name put on a trophy.

"If [the cost of competing] was in the 50-75 [million-dollar] range and I could put a good team together I would give it some thought, but at the moment I'm not contemplating anything like that."

Sir Russell was unable to be reached for comment last night.

Two more races will be held today. Team NZ lead the match 4-0, with Oracle still needing to win another race before they can start scoring points, as part of sanctions imposed by the international jury after finding the team guilty of gross misconduct.

- NZ Herald

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