One of the joys amateur sailors everywhere found in watching the America's Cup close up on TV was that the pros often suffered from the same indecision and errors that they do.
Until recent years, of course, there have been no pros or amateurs in sailing--just sailors. Some believe that people who either work in the industry or are informally subsidized to sail for a living have an advantage over those who see their boats only on weekends.
Most of the latter would be intimidated by the guy who cuts Dennis Conner's hair.
Bruce Golison, promoter of the third annual Sobstad Race Week for seagoing sailboats starting at Long Beach today, heard enough complaints on the issue in the first two years of their event that he was moved to poll the entries last year. He found that about 80% would favor a rule prohibiting "marine professionals" from steering boats, unless they were the principal owners.
They'll try the rule this year. It excludes only those "whose income is derived from working in the marine industry" and not those sometimes called "boat bums," who spend most of their time sailing boats without other visible means of support.
Some believe the new rule doesn't go far enough because pros will still be permitted to be \o7 aboard\f7 the boats, where their input on tactics and sail trim could be helpful.
The issue also is being debated by the U.S. Yacht Racing Union, which is considering proposals that could result in three classifications: (1) outright pros competing for purses, (2) industry pros and (3) pure amateurs.
At least the Sobstad event is a start, though not all of this year's competitors are happy about it.
"I think it's stupid," says Neil Commerford of the Anacapa Yacht Club in Channel Island Harbor.
Dave Klatt steered Commerford's Schock 35 "Galena" to second place in Class A each of the last two years. But Klatt, a boat rigger from Oxnard, has been disqualified by the new rule.
"We're going to win it, anyway," says Commerford, who has turned the helm over to John Carpenter, whom he describes with some sarcasm as "a professional college student."
Class A is the most competitive of the five Sobstad classes if for no other reason than it is level racing, without handicaps, and the 20-boat fleet is split evenly between Schock 35s and J-35s--both fast, mid-size, production performance boats.
Commerford allows that the Schocks have an edge in lighter air, the Js in heavy, "and in really heavy, they're pretty even."
If there is a feud to decide which is the better boat, it wasn't resolved last year when a J-35, Bill Rosenberg's Raging Rosy from the Channel Islands YC, finished first, but Schocks took the next five places.
Rosy and Galena actually finished the three races tied in points, but Rosy got the title by virtue of having beaten Galena in two of the three races.
"We've beaten ourselves by stupid mistakes," Commerford said, echoing the refrain of Fremantle. "Last year, we got involved with a freighter at the weather mark and had to wait for it to go by. Two years ago, we took a flyer and went outside the breakwater thinking we'd find more wind, and Geronimo went inside and beat us."
Commerford will be glad to learn that Raging Rosy won't return its same helmsman, Peter Heck, also because of the no-pros rule, though he won't be kicked completely off the boat, as some would prefer.
"I didn't believe in that," Golison said. "That's why we didn't go that far."
Next year, Golison has bigger ideas to throw the competition wide-open in at least one class.
"Next year, we'll be trying for purses," he said.
Until then, what's in it for the winners? Trophies of Waterford and Galway crystal from Ireland.
The Sobstad, sponsored by one of the two major U.S. racing sailmakers, has grown from 70 entries in its first year to 85 in 1986 and its limit of 100 this year, with three dozen more turned away.
Races are scheduled to start at 4 p.m. today, 11:30 a.m. Saturday (followed by another race) and 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
It's almost a spectator event. Presuming the wind prevails from south-southwest, the buoy courses will take the boats close to Pier J south of the Spruce Goose on an upwind leg and along the beach east of Belmont Pier on a spinnaker reach.
Defending champions include Paul Queyrel's Swan 42 "Toboggan" from Newport Beach in Class B, Peter Kent's Peterson 34 "Pop 'n' Us" from Long Beach in Class D and Hubert Guy's First Class 8 "Frances" from Cabrillo Beach in Class E.
Gene Trepte, chairman of the San Diego YC's controversial America's Cup Defense Committee, will sail his Sparkman & Stephens 51 "Brushfire" in Class B.
Should he win, Class B will still be sailed at Long Beach next year.