LONG BEACH — John Taylor stood at the stern of a 17-foot outboard frantically waving his arms as he hoarsely repeated a wrenching command.
"A hundred bucks to the guy who finds the watch!" he yelled, wobbling on his feet as the boat bobbed wildly in the surf.
From the beach a few yards away, a half-dozen young men scrambled into the water. The object of their search: a Rolex timepiece worth $4,000 that had just slipped from the gesticulating man's wrist as he waded through the foam to clamor aboard this vessel. Taylor watched the search in silence as the distance between the boat and the shore widened to a chasm. Then he shrugged his shoulders and turned toward the bow. "Forget it," he told the skipper. "Take off. Let's go see the race!"
Miraculously, the expensive waterproof watch was later found by one of the searchers. But the ease with which its owner had been willing to give it up for the excitement of a moment was consistent with the way he's running an event that he says will help revolutionize sailboat racing.
Taylor, 36, says he expects to lose at least $50,000 on the first Pacific 1000, a grueling 11-day catamaran race concluding Sunday in Huntington Beach. But if all goes well, he says, next year's race will be a moneymaker. And he will be in on the ground floor of a sport deeply entrenched in the life style of a city that has hosted, among other things, Olympic sailing events and the practice runs of the U.S. entry in this year's race for the America's Cup.
"We want to take sailboat racing out of the yacht club and make it accessible to the general public," Taylor said. While traditional races occur in the middle of the ocean under the well-seasoned eyes of club members in yachts, he said, his begin and end each day on the beach, potentially under the noses of cheering spectators.
Wants to Attract Sponsors
And while traditional races are held with an "attitude of aristocracy" well beyond the ken of crass commercial interests, Taylor says he wants to make the sport popular enough to attract corporate sponsors and major media coverage.
Though similar events have been held on the East Coast, organizers say, the Pacific 1000 is the first of its kind in the West. Taylor said he chose catamarans because as the fastest sailboats in the world, the sleek vessels--which rest on two pontoons and require sailors to lean far out over the water to maintain balance--appeal to his love of speed and adventure.
A former Millikan High School football player, Taylor set the world record in
barefoot water skiing in 1976 by becoming the first human ever to break the 100-m.p.h. mark. For years he was a speedboat enthusiast, operating a school for would-be water skiers out of Dallas, Tex. But when escalating gas prices made speedboating too expensive, says the would-be entrepreneur, he switched to the sleek catamarans and has been racing them ever since.
"I want to bring to catamaran racing the same excitement I felt in playing football and water skiing," said Taylor, who makes his living by promoting special sporting events.
Some of that excitement was evident last week as 19 of the boats took off from Long Beach on the first leg of their race--a four- to six-hour jaunt to Catalina. Bustling with last-minute preparations, the crews--most of them wearing snug-fitting wet suits--lined the water amid the cheers of several dozen onlookers while an announcer counted down the last 10 minutes to the blast of the starting gun.
"We got a boat down!" Taylor screamed from the beach over a public address system less than 15 seconds into the race. "It's gonna be absolutely nuts out there. They're really smokin'!"
Estimated $75,000 Cost
Taylor, who lives in a canal-front home in the Naples section of Long Beach and drives a yellow Cadillac Seville equipped with a mobile telephone, said he's paying for the event through the recent sale of a retail boat dealership he operated for four years. Of the estimated $75,000 cost for promotion, insurance and a video production, he said, about $25,000 will be returned in the form of fees paid by various commercial sponsors. The rest, Taylor said, he hopes to eventually recoup through the sale of the video to television and the increased commercial sponsorship of future races.
The promoter--who majored in communications at Cal State Long Beach--staged a series of pre-event stunts including what he claimed was the world's largest beach volleyball game, played with a ball 11 feet in diameter and tossed about by teams of 70 players each. In addition, Custom Nails--a Modesto-based manufacturer of women's artificial fingernails--has brought some attention to the race by sponsoring what the company claims is the sport's first all-woman team. In order to meet the event's minimum weight requirement of 320 pounds per boat, the fingernail company's crew has three members instead of the usual two.