CORONADO — A numerologist might have had a field day Wednesday at the Hotel del Coronado.
For starters, it was the hotel's 98th birthday. And then there were 500 guests on hand to observe (solemnly) the loss of yachting's America's Cup trophy, for the first time ever, to another country. But these 500 also were on hand to cheer the Sail America Foundation, and Stars & Stripes skipper Dennis Conner, in their combined efforts to recapture the cup from the conquering Australians in 1987.
Conner, his crew and the boat will be but one of 14 entries competing in October for the right to challenge the Aussies, but at present they are the odds-on favorites, and are expected to maintain their front-running position. The effort will cost millions, of which much remains to be raised.
It would take an expert in the occult science of numbers to explain just what magic these various figures might contain but, for the guests, the magic was in the evening and the hopes of victory it offered. The party, sponsored jointly by the Hotel del Coronado and the Sail America Foundation, raised more than $100,000 for the Stars & Stripes challenge and celebrated the recent donation by hotelier Larry Lawrence of a pair of boats that are being used as tenders to the Conner yacht as it goes through practice maneuvers off Honolulu. (One tender, formerly known as the Suave Lino and long the popular site of Lawrence-hosted Fourth of July parties, has been rechristened Betsy in honor of Betsy Ross.) The dinner-dance further recognized the designation of Coronado as an official Stars & Stripes community.
Conner and his wife, Judy; Lawrence and his wife, Jeanne, and Sail America President Malin Burnham and his wife, Roberta, were all on hand to greet large donors and event sponsors at a pre-dinner reception given in the hotel's Hanover Room. Skipper Conner, looking both relatively comfortable in black tie and very, very bronzed from his months of sailing sunny southern seas, spoke of nothing but bringing the America's Cup back to its native shores. Burnham also grew understandably expansive on the topic, in all its diversity.
"We've got a secret boat design, but all I'm going to tell you is that it's bigger than a bread box and smaller than a house," he said. "Of the 14 cup challengers from around the world, six are from the U.S., and Dennis Conner's entry is our own, under the flag of the San Diego Yacht Club. But we want all America to sponsor this effort."
Burnham added that the crew is training off Honolulu because the winds there are considered quite similar to those that cool the seas near Perth, the Australian city off which the Stars & Stripes will sail in its effort to bring home the America's Cup.
Speaking of big winds, a whole raft of them blew down that evening from Hollywood, in the form of a crew of television actors who arrived to lend glamour to the proceedings. It was captained by actor Richard Mulligan (perhaps best remembered for his role in "Soap"), who also served as the fund-raiser's master of ceremonies. The group also included actress Abby Dalton (of "Falcon Crest") and Gregory Harrison (of "Trapper John, M.D."). Harrison grew up on Santa Catalina Island and thus may come naturally by his reputation of being a master sailor.
Mulligan et al led the sponsors over to the larger party in the Grande Ballroom, where the guests showed an unusual reticence about stepping out to the rhythms of the Bill Green Orchestra. That may have been because the dinner was unusually good (it is not, after all, every day that the hotel turns 98, and no culinary holds were barred); the meal sported an appropriately nautical theme that expressed itself in an opening course of sole Nantua and effloresced in a champagne sorbet served in chunks of ice carved to resemble clam shells. All in all, it was a dandy dinner, and one that kept the guests happily busy for quite some time.
Many of those present expressed the intention to be present in Perth when the Stars & Stripes makes it run for glory. Among those who have already missed a chance to sail aboard the yacht were Jean and Jack Morse, who were invited aboard for a practice run off Honolulu in November. A previous engagement kept them from going. "It was awful," Jack said. "We missed the chance of a lifetime."
Guest Tommi Adelizzi, meanwhile, missed the chance to make a nautical splash at the party. She had been offered the loan of a genuine (if excessively braided) admiral's uniform that Pam Allison had sewn for Barbara Malone's recent birthday party. Tommi demurred, on the grounds that there might be a few genuine admirals present, and, when she was proven correct, confessed herself pleased to have worn civvies. Her husband, banker Bob Adelizzi, made rather a splash himself that evening when he presented Sail America with a Home Federal check for $25,000.