In 1876, Nathanael Herreshoff, whose innovative boat designs spanned and dominated parts of two centuries, appeared on the starting line of a New York Yacht Club event with a catamaran.
His peers wouldn't have been more shocked if Queen Victoria had spit on the carpet.
Herreshoff proceeded to blow away the fleet, which included several giant, conventional monohulls of up to 130 feet with thousands of square feet of sail.
After a few years of this mocking behavior, the traditionalists of most major yacht clubs barred multihulls from competition, and it would be about 75 years before they returned to prominence--and only then in competition among themselves.
Herreshoff shrugged and went on to design five monohulls that would successfully defend the America's Cup six times between 1893 and 1920, but his well-made point that multihulls are faster than monohulls was never forgotten.
Since the defending NYYC had passed a club rule against them in Cup competition, Herreshoff did not consider entering a multihull. But the idea has resurfaced at the San Diego Yacht Club, which apparently has no such rule.
That is still one of the options the Sail America Foundation is leaving open in its management role for the SDYC in the controversial defense late next summer against the New Zealand superboat being built by Michael Fay, the Kiwi merchant banker who has turned the Cup upside down from Down Under.
Fay, who is locked into his design--a monohull with a 90-foot waterline, says they can't do that, insisting that "the challenger has now, under the Deed of Gift, picked the class of boat for the next America's Cup."
But Sail America's designers, John Marshall and Britton Chance, differ.
"(Fay) has already eliminated the options we're now looking at," Marshall said.
Chance: "We have three main design configurations under consideration. We are working to consider multihulls, hydrofoil-supported monohulls and monohulls."
Obviously, Sail America isn't tipping its hand, but Chance said there is one problem.
"The most significant thing is we realize we are in a building box because of the time factor," he said.
Dennis Conner has said he will sail whatever boat they give him, but he wants to be sailing it by May 15.
"It's a near certainty he won't have it by then," said Marshall, who again will coordinate the design team.
That, Chance said, gives them until Feb. 15 to finish the design, then only three months to launch it.
"We can't build in time what we would prefer to build," Chance said. "It will be a smaller and simpler boat."
In fact, Marshall said: "We're likely to have more than one boat . . . two alternate concepts."
If that means one will be a catamaran, they aren't saying, but it raises two points.
First, Sail America got itself into this box by doing nothing between Fay's challenge last July 17 and the decision from the New York Supreme Court Nov. 25 that San Diego must honor it--more than four months lost on Fay's 10 months' notice of challenge.
Second, San Diego must now be certain of its legal position pursuant to the Deed of Gift if it does build only a multihull. Otherwise, Fay could win the Cup by default.
The deed, that 100-year-old document from the pen of George L. Schuyler that governs Cup competition, does not bar multihulls in so many words.
But Fay says: "When you read the Deed of Gift, you will see that it's quite clear that a multihull is indeed not contemplated by the deed. The tradition of the Cup is not about multihulls."
Fay alludes to the passage in the deed that requires a challenger to submit his waterline, beam (width) and draft (depth) dimensions. He maintains draft and beam wouldn't be important if Schuyler was talking about multihulls, which have no deep, lead keels.
On the other hand, the deed doesn't say the defender can't sail anything he wants to, only that he "shall not be required to name its representative (boat) until at a time agreed upon for the start."
But if San Diego's design is extreme, it may decide to reveal it very soon, just to see if Fay has any objections. The club already has lost one round in court to him and would be foolish to chance arriving at the starting line with an illegal boat.
That would come under the deed's provision for "mutual consent."
Although Fay's boat is committed and half-built, Marshall is wary of it because of its origins in the mind of designer Bruce Farr, who has built so many successful ocean racing craft.
"Whenever you run into a Farr boat, you know they're gonna be tough," Marshall said. "If he staked out the ground, it's very possible it's the high ground."
Sail America, of course, would rather be sailing in 12-meter boats, which have been used in the 10 Cup competitions since World War II.
Nowhere in the deed are 12-meters mandated or even mentioned, but in some quarters they are regarded as "the boat that saved the America's Cup," because the competition had so out-priced itself with the giant J-boats of the '30s that no challenges were forthcoming for 21 years.