Michael Bornn will feel like a loser if, after spending $30 million, he wins the America's Cup Challenge yacht race yet doesn't inspire Virgin Islanders to earn a living from the sea.
Mr. Bornn, a native of the Virgin Islands, is the chairman of Seslia Securities, the only broker/dealer in the U.S. territory. It counts the Virgin Islands Government Employees' Retirement System as a client.
He is raising $30 million to finance two boats that he hopes will ultimately qualify for the February 2000 America's Cup Challenge off the coast of New Zealand. His team, the Virgin Islands America's Cup Challenge, already has raised almost $4 million from corporate sponsors.
Winning is a goal, said Mr. Bornn, but it is more of a means to an end: to inspire Virgin Islanders to rediscover the sea as a source of economic opportunity.
"Go back two generations, and the sea was where our families made their living," said Mr. Bornn, who comes from a family of fishermen.
"We associated it with hard work and bad times."
That attitude, combined with economic opportunities brought on by tourism, lured Virgin Islanders away from the sea and into land-based jobs, he said.
Mr. Bornn estimates that 80% of the children in the Virgin Islands don't even swim in the warm, clear green waters surrounding the tropical land.
"We think it (the yacht race) is the best vehicle to get Virgin Islanders back to the sea and enfranchise them into the marine economy," he said.
"If we win the Cup and Virgin Islanders don't get back to the sea, it's not worth it."
Mr. Bornn acknowledges that the odds of his team qualifying for and winning the America's Cup are great, but he is nonetheless putting forth a credible effort.
Peter Holmberg, a 1988 Olympics silver medalist in sailing and a childhood friend of Mr. Bornn, will be the boat's captain.
David Pedrick, designer of two winning America's Cup yachts, will design the vessel for the Virgin Islands.
The team has been practicing on Stars & Stripes, a yacht that once won the America's Cup.