SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Yacht Club and Sail America Foundation, left with little legal latitude, said Wednesday they will put the America's Cup on the line against New Zealand's Michael Fay but will pick their own time, place and boat--and this is strictly between the two countries.
"We intend to beat him on the water, sailing by the rules, then get on with an event in 1991 which we deem is the proper America's Cup event," Tom Ehman, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Sail America, said at a press conference at the yacht club.
The club and foundation announced in September that they intended to stage a defense off San Diego in 1991 in conventional 12-meter boats. Then, last Wednesday, a New York Supreme Court judge upheld Fay's challenge to compete for the Cup in 1988 in a boat with a 90-foot waterline.
An 'Interim Challenge'
Ehman portrayed that as an "interim America's Cup challenge" to be disposed of as "surgically clean" as possible.
Thus, the intent of the yacht club and Sail America is to abide by the strict terms of the century-old Deed of Gift that governs Cup competition but to stack the '88 competition as much in their favor as possible to ensure a '91 event. Fay based his radical challenge on a strict reading of the deed, which others had ignored for 100 years.
"We say tit for tat in this country," Ehman said.
A key factor will be to exclude all other challengers, a point certain to arouse protests from Australia's Alan Bond and Britain's Peter DeSavary, who have indicated they would also like to compete for the Cup in '88 in the larger boats.
"San Diego will not consent to other challengers under the strict terms of this challenge," Ehman said. "The answer is no--capital N-O, no.
"The 1991 event certainly will be open to all challengers from around the world. This next event will be conducted in strict accordance with the deed--a one-on-one match (between) the Mercury Bay Boating Club and the San Diego Yacht Club."
Fay said later Wednesday that he hadn't spoken to Bond or DeSavary since the San Diego press conference.
"No, but I think I can hear them screaming," Fay said by phone from Auckland.
Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick has not yet signed and issued the specific order, a legal formality to follow her 19-page decision that ordered San Diego "to accept the challenge, forfeit the Cup or negotiate agreeable terms."
The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to appeal the decision and may be joined by New York Atty. Gen. Robert Abrams, the yacht club and Sail America, although the latter two aren't counting on winning an appeal.
Appeal Situation Unknown
"We don't know what the situation is with respect to appeal until we see the court's final order," Ehman said.
Though not closing the door on the possibility of appeal, Ehman said, "We don't want to appeal. We want to get out and sort this out on the water."
At the moment, barring a successful appeal, there is no other choice.
Yacht club Commodore Fred Frye said, "We have no intention of forfeiting the Cup," and negotiation seems out of the question in the currently bitter climate.
"Michael Fay was a clear victor (in the legal decision)," Frye said. "The San Diego Yacht Club will defend this Cup wherever and whenever we are required."
But where and when that will be nobody was saying. Under the deed, all the defender is required to do is announce the site at least 90 days in advance. He doesn't have to reveal his boat until the start of the first race--a practical impossibility, of course, considering the tuning and testing involved, but a point San Diego could press to the limit.
If Fay insists on strict adherence to the deed, San Diego is determined to show that two can play that game.
Ehman sent a three-page, single-spaced letter to Fay on Wednesday "to confirm our plans for America's Cup XXVII"--the first formal response Fay had received from his challenge since he handed it to Frye over lunch in San Diego on July 15.
Ehman listed the terms of the defense, which closely paraphrased the deed itself.
As he read it, he paused at one point and asked, "Does all of this sound familiar?"
Cup's Image Is of Concern
The letter closed: "Michael, we fear that the America's Cup will suffer under this practice of literal compliance (with the deed)."
Fay said, "It's ironic that they're now using the deed to protect a position that will help them defend the Cup."
In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Fay also disputed San Diego's other major points:
- That the defender could sail a boat with a 115-foot waterline, "if of more than one mast," according to the deed, or even a lightweight multihull.
- That the competition could be held anywhere in the world.
- That San Diego can select the time, subject to the 90-day notice.
"The challenger has the inalienable right to choose the type of boat," Fay said. "They can't come out with a two-masted vessel.