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The 'Where' Decided, Next America's Cup Question Is 'When'

September 02, 1987|Dave Distel

Kiwi.

That's a funny word, isn't it? Kiwi. Rhymes with peewee. Anything called a Kiwi should be as unthreatening as, well, a flightless bird that's all body and bill and has plumage like Phyllis Diller's hair.

However, a Kiwi is also a New Zealander, and these people are tough, resourceful and persistent.

Michael Fay is a Kiwi.

Sail America and the San Diego Yacht Club are having a press conference this morning. It was supposed to be time to roll the drums and make the dramatic announcement.

Da-Dat-Ta-Da . . .

The America's Cup will be defended (a) in Dennis Conner's swimming pool, (b) at Lake Woebegone, (c) in a gravel pit in Irwindale or (d) off the San Diego coast.

The envelope . . .

Never mind, we know the answer.

San Diego has been it from the moment Stars & Stripes crossed the finish line off Western Australia last winter.

Irwindale, given its genius for creative financing, had almost as much chance as Hawaii really had. Unfortunately for Hawaii and the other hapless hopefuls, they were chasing a prize that was already betrothed.

However, as of late Tuesday afternoon, SDYC and Sail America were as bewildered as they were betrothed. Here they were, ready to announce San Diego as the site and spring of 1991 as the time for the next defense and . . .

Along came this fellow Fay.

This is no meek bird, this Fay. The San Diego sail set may come to view him more as a shark . . . a Jaws with juice.

Fay, an investment banker, has no gripe with racing off San Diego. That part of the announcement is fine with him.

However, Fay has no interest in waiting until 1991 . . . and racing in 12-meters. He has issued a challenge to race next June in 90-foot yachts. He is so confident he has made a legitimate challenge that his yacht has already been designed, and construction is scheduled to begin this week.

Thus far, Fay's challenge--made July 17--has been treated as an annoyance, as though maybe it will go away.

It won't, at least not without some legal gymnastics.

He saw to that Tuesday, when he obtained a restraining order from the New York Supreme Court that bars the SDYC from taking any action regarding the next Cup races until after a court hearing next Wednesday.

In a statement Tuesday, Fay said: "The club has consistently disregarded our notice of challenge and had stated its intention to conduct a defense of the America's Cup in 12-meters in 1991. This has left us no option but to ask the court to intercede and decide on the issues involved."

And so this issue lands in the lap of the New York Supreme Court, the judicial body empowered by the America's Cup Deed of Gift to settle disagreements involving the intent and spirit of the document.

It has been said that Fay's challenge is based on the discovery of a loophole in the deed, but that does not seem to me to be the case. Fay's challenge was made in exactly the manner mandated by the deed, though at odds with the way challenges have been organized recently.

Thus, another controversy surfaces, much more serious than where the regatta would be raced.

San Diego was a cinch all along.

Why, then, was the site selection obscured for so long by such a fog bank of rhetoric? Why did it ever become a controversial issue if it was such a slam dunk?

In retrospect, it is easy to understand.

Let's say Sail America and the SDYC came back from Fremantle and said: "Look here, folks, we've won this Cup and we'd like to invite a few countries to come and challenge for it in three or four years."

The reaction, quite possibly, would have been: "Sounds good. Put together whatever you can afford to put together. Might be fun to watch."

To get the support it needed from the community and government, Sail America had to take a different tack. What it had to do, basically, was tack away. It had to play a little bit hard to get . . . and encourage other suitors.

The San Diego Yacht Club could not let this regatta go elsewhere, and I suspect Sail America was literally in the same boat. The city, county and port district could not let it escape, either.

It was just a matter of time before it all came together.

The problem is that all this time spent posturing gave Michael Fay time to put his program together. His ideas are just a little bit different.

Thus, the press conference is still scheduled for this morning, but a Sail America spokesperson admitted it might be a little different from originally planned.

I would assume there will be no problem with the announcement that San Diego will be the site of the next America's Cup races. The key word is "next."

When might "next" be?

At this point, other considerations might come into play.

What if Michael Fay wins in the New York Supreme Court? What if the next America's Cup races will be next June? How much financial backing will be needed for an event of a mere few days' or weeks' duration? What will be the investment and what will be the return?

Michael Fay, one persistent Kiwi, has thrown a few questions into the fray.

Ironic, isn't it, that all he wanted was an answer.

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