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Kiwis Say They'll Sail 'Bloody Farce' Here, Not San Pedro

February 11, 1988|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Leaders of New Zealand's sailing syndicate say contesting the America's Cup in their monohull against Sail America's catamaran will be "a bloody farce" and that they aren't even thinking about doing it in San Pedro Bay.

"We are shipping our boat to San Diego," spokesman Peter Debreceny said by phone from Auckland on Wednesday.

The syndicate's New York lawyer, George Tompkins, said: "If on the day of the first race we're in San Diego and they're in San Pedro, we'd go to court the next day and ask for forfeiture of the Cup.

"Common sense would dictate that the defense has to be in (what are considered) the home waters of the defender at the time the challenge is issued."

Otherwise, Tompkins said, the defender need only wait until the challenger, as required, commits his boat design to the anticipated conditions, and then move to a venue with different conditions--precisely what Sail America wants to do.

"They're playing Russian roulette," Tompkins said. "San Diego has to sail us in accordance with the notice of challenge."

The statements followed syndicate chief Michael Fay's earlier objections about having the races outside San Diego.

Meanwhile, Sail America proceeded with plans to base its boat operations in Long Beach and sail the defense in the San Pedro Channel somewhere between Pt. Fermin and Seal Beach.

Dennis Conner has been designated the skipper, but a more experienced, world-class catamaran sailor--probably Randy Smyth of Huntington Beach or Cam Lewis of Newport, R.I.--will actually steer.

Fay's "New Zealand"--90 feet at the waterline and seven months of grief for Sail America--is scheduled to be launched March 27 in Auckland. It was already booked aboard a container ship from Auckland to Long Beach Harbor when Sail America announced last week that it was moving the venue there.

But, according to Debreceny, when the boat is unloaded it will still be placed on a truck and hauled down to San Diego.

That's Fay's way of telling Sail America he doesn't think it has a right to move the venue out of its home waters, where Stars & Stripes thinks its catamaran would perform below its optimum because of lighter winds.

Fay's legal counsel, Andrew Johns, also speaking by phone from Auckland, discussed the venue, the catamaran and other disputed issues.

Johns did not cite any specific rules Sail America has violated, but he suggested the group is guilty of conflict of interest, poor sportsmanship and usurping excessive authority from the San Diego Yacht Club, for which it is managing the defense.

"Sail America wants to win the race out on the water," Johns said. "Good on them. But you've got Sail America running the race. It's like asking a rabbit to look after the lettuce patch.

"They're looking at retaining the Cup not by being the best on the day but by being devious.

"We were of the view that there was no uncertainty about the venue at all. The venue was where the San Diego Yacht Club was. That's where the Cup was.

"And all this drama about no time to build a (monohull), that's absurd. Our boat's being built in four months, going at single shifts and not working on the weekends.

"There's no issue about the venue. You sail where the yacht club is. Shifting the jolly racing 200 miles away, the only reason they've done it is to disadvantage the New Zealand boat and to make sure the boat they choose--a multihull--will have better sailing conditions."

Johns claimed that Tom Ehman, Sail America's executive director, said in a talk before the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco: "There's no way the Kiwis can win this because we'll choose a multihull and we'll move the races to some place that won't suit their boat."

Ehman and other Sail America leaders have freely admitted those motives and attempted to justify them as protecting an all-comers defense in San Diego in 1991 that would be worth an estimated $1.2 billion to the city.

Also, Sail America officials say, Long Beach is only half as far from San Diego as Newport, R.I.--site of every New York Yacht Club defense from 1920 through 1983--is from New York City.

The Kiwis counter that the defenses were moved to Newport by the "mutual consent" provision of the Deed of Gift and that everybody knew where the races would be when they challenged.

"If that's the American way of playing sport . . . I'm not convinced the San Diego Yacht Club will subscribe to those things at all," Johns said.

San Diego Yacht Club Commodore Doug Alford wrote Fay in December assuring the Kiwi merchant banker that "Sail America's performance of its management duties is subject to consultation with and approval by the San Diego Yacht Club."

Gerry Driscoll, chairman of the seven-man Defense Committee appointed by the club, said earlier that while Sail America had been given a free hand to sail whatever kind of boat it wanted to, "after lots of discussion" the choice of venue still rested with the committee.

It was hoped that Sail America could come up with a design compatible with San Diego's conditions, he said.

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