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Word Is Out: San Diego's Won Bid for Cup Race Site

September 01, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

San Diego's selection as the site of the next America's Cup defense--probably in 1991, unless New Zealand forces one earlier--will be announced at a press conference Wednesday at the San Diego Yacht Club.

The decision, long a foregone conclusion, was cemented Monday, according to a source who asked not to be identified, when the city's America's Cup Task Force delivered a letter to the club's America's Cup Committee guaranteeing $10 million as the down payment for staging the defense.

Top officials from the club, the Sail America Foundation, the America's Cup Committee and the task force were scheduled to participate in the press conference, although none would confirm Monday that San Diego had been chosen.

'It Was a Long Shot'

However, Fred Smales, chairman of the "Hawaii for the America's Cup" campaign to bring the defense to the islands, said he hadn't been invited to attend, although he has been in Southern California for two weeks.

"I didn't expect to be (invited)," Smales said. Reached by phone at Dana Point, Smales said he knew his cause was lost when a new America's Cup Committee was formed, by order of an arbitrator, and San Diego boat builder Gerry Driscoll was selected as chairman.

"Gerry's an old crewmate of mine on (America's Cup 12-meter) Columbia," Smales said, "but he's a dyed-in-the-wool San Diegan."

While few dispute that Hawaii's sea breezes are much stronger than the prevailing wind off San Diego, Smales said he talked to Driscoll Monday and told him "we realized all along it was a long shot, as far as we were concerned."

Dave Hutchinson, a spokesman for the task force, said Hawaii was easily the strongest of several rivals, "no question." But all of them, including San Francisco, Miami, Texas, New Orleans and Newport, R.I., were advised last week to save their efforts until further notice.

The only matters remaining to be resolved are the dates for a 1991 defense and New Zealand's challenge to race next June--not in a 12-meter but in a larger, faster boat with a 90-foot waterline, the largest allowed by the America's Cup Deed of Gift. The latter issue may wind up before the New York State Supreme Court, which oversees the deed.

Loophole in Deed?

The basis of New Zealand's challenge is a literal reading of the Deed of Gift that allows--in what some describe as a loophole--an outside yacht club to issue a direct challenge for the America's Cup. Both the San Diego Yacht Club and Sail America have done their best to spurn the request, mainly by ignoring it.

The dates for a '91 defense were to be fixed at a meeting of Driscoll's committee Wednesday morning. Organizers seem to favor late spring or early autumn for a defense. The deed allows the Cup final to be sailed between May 1 and Oct. 31 in the Northern Hemisphere, but preliminary eliminations could be run before that.

The races would be conducted on courses 7 or 8 miles west of Point Loma's cliffs, well beyond the kelp beds and about an hour's tow from the harbor (12-meters have no motors).

The time and location are important to environmentalists concerned about the semi-annual migration of whales along the coast, but a task force spokesman said surveys indicated there would be no conflict.

All of the above plans could be scuttled by New Zealand's challenge, which is Sail America's problem as manager of the defense. New Zealand merchant banker Michael Fay, who ran the Kiwis' successful first-time effort at Fremantle, Australia, seems quietly determined to follow through on his bid.

Sail America's chief operating officer, Tom Ehman, said Monday: "If we honor his challenge, we'll be sued by every other challenger around the world."

Ehman said there may be as many as 20 challengers, but if the Cup were sailed by the letter of the deed, as Fay proposes, only two boats from two countries would be allowed to compete.

Challenger Trials

"If he takes us to court and that's the way it comes out, there's no way those other guys will take part," Ehman said. "We have an overriding concern to do what's best for the Cup."

However, New Zealand spokesman Peter Debreceny said by phone from Auckland Monday that Fay had suggested challenger trials when Australia and Britain also challenged with larger boats and that a multiboat elimination series would be permissible under the deed "by mutual consent" of Sail America and New Zealand.

Fay has said that he hasn't received a firm rejection or acceptance from San Diego, but Ehman said, "We've answered him time and time again that we're going to run this in 1991."

There was a report Monday that Fay would fly to New York to consult his lawyers and perhaps pursue legal action, depending on what is said at the Wednesday press conference.

"It's a possibility," Debreceny said. "If we go to New York, we'll certainly see the lawyers."

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