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San Diego Sportscene

The Cup: Is It Half Empty or Half Full?

December 05, 1987|Dave Distel

Now that the San Diego Yacht Club and Sail America have accepted Michael Fay's New Zealand challenge for a 1988 America's Cup competition, it is probably appropriate to clarify some perceptions and misconceptions about this controversial scenario.

America's Cup, according to the Deed of Gift, is a perpetual trophy to be won or lost in friendly competition between foreign nations.


America's Cup, in actuality, is a perpetual trophy to be won or lost in friendly competition between foreign nations.


America's Cup, in actuality, is a perpetual trophy to be won or lost in competition between foreign nations.


Confused? The key word is friendly. Delete it. Friendliness is a condition mandated by the Deed of Gift, the document which rules this competition. However, gamesmanship is much more prevalent than sportsmanship. I wouldn't sit down to a game of poker with any of these guys unless I was playing with my deck and they were wearing short-sleeved shirts.

Michael Fay has created quite a stir with his pre-emptive challenge. As might be expected, his Mercury Bay Boating Club is the most prestigious in New Zealand.


There may be such a club, but there is no such place.

To quote a couple of New Zealand publications . . .

The Dominion: "We look forward to the day when the cup comes home to the Mercury Bay Yacht Club, which not only has no clubhouse to put it in, but doesn't even own a flag or a fancy club tie. It's just a bunch of Whittianga boaties who band together to give their mates a bit of a hand."

Sunday Times: " . . . Fay threw down the gauntlet via the previously unheard of Mercury Bay Boat Club. With a 1956 Ford Zephyr as a clubhouse, signal flags flying from the aerial and protest forms kept in the glove box, the 50-member club is unknown to most New Zealanders."

Maybe Fay would use the America's Cup as a hood ornament.

The 1988 racing will be held off the coast of San Diego.

True. However, it is uncertain exactly how far off the San Diego coast. That won't be announced until 90 days before the competition. It might be 3 miles off the coast and it might be 2,403 miles off the coast. Should the latter be the case, the boats would probably be docked in Hawaii.

Only two entries will be permitted, New Zealand's challenger and the San Diego Yacht Club's defender.


The rest of the world is very excited about this concept.


For example, Ben Lexcen, Australia's leading yacht designer, has virtually worked himself into a frenzy over such a prospect.

According to a United Press International report, Lexcen had this to say about Sail America's decision to exclude the Aussies, among others, from the competition:

"The United States, this once great nation and land of the free, is chicken-hearted. The American emblem, the bald eagle, should be changed to a spastic canary. The decision smacks of 300 million people in the most technologically advanced place in the world being dead scared of 3 million sheep farmers."

It comforts me to know that Ben Lexcen is not commander-in-chief of Australia's armed forces.

The SDYC will not unveil its vessel until the morning of the first race.

True. This will add intrigue, but presupposes that New Zealand does not boldly send spies in wet suits and trench coats to monitor whatever vessel Dennis Conner and Co. might be sailing in preparation for the big event. After all, the perception Down Under that the U.S. has gone chicken-hearted will certainly encourage such blatant intrusions. Conner may have to withdraw to an obscure cove on Lake Mead to avoid scrutiny, though that would seem likely to inhibit his ability to work the vessel in optimum conditions.

Sail America's vessel will be 115-feet long, have two masts, outriggers on each side and a sail the size of Rhode Island.

Who knows? Maybe they will borrow the U.S.S. Constellation from the Navy, shut down the boiler room and outfit it with a sail the size of Texas. Maybe Conner will stick a sail in Shamu's blow hole, borrow a saddle from D. Wayne Lukas and go it alone.

Sail America has rigged the competition so New Zealand cannot possibly win.

It looks that way. Michael Fay established his right to challenge by going according to the wording of the Deed of Gift. Sail America has structured its acceptance by interpreting the wording of the Deed to its advantage in terms of where the race will be and what sort of craft it will sail. Tom Ehman, Sail America's executive vice president, called it: "Tit for tat."

All is fair in this friendly competition for an ugly piece of hardware I would not wish on my mother-in-law's curio cabinet.

Wait a minute. Did I slip? Did I say friendly? Delete it. In going according to the wording of the Deed of Gift, that is one word no one remembers.

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