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Sailing : Multihull Issue Causes Multitude of Problems

June 06, 1988|Rich Roberts

New Zealand's big monohull and the two Stars & Stripes catamarans now share the same pond as they prepare for a September America's Cup competition off San Diego, but until New York Supreme Court Judge Carmen Ciparick decides whether multihulls are legal it's only an exercise in irrelevance.

Whether the Deed of Gift specifically bars multihulls--it doesn't--also may be irrelevant if Ciparick buys New Zealand's latest proposal to postpone the event until next May and invite all comers in similar boats. Similar to New Zealand's, that is.

Essentially, it's the same bid Michael Fay made last March to Sail America. The San Diego Yacht Club--remember them, the guys who hold the Cup?--leaned toward accepting it, but the Sail America Foundation, which is managing the defense, wanted to negotiate it.

The difference is that this time Fay took it to court, which could order Sail America to accept it if she is convinced that George L. Schuyler, the long-ago author of the deed, intended that there be fair and equal competition for the Cup.

In that case, there would be no September event, and Sail America might have another problem: how to keep the defense exclusively the province of Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes syndicate.

If Ciparick kicks out the cats and tells Stars & Stripes it must sail a similar monohull in September, it would be an impossible assignment. There is no monohull in the world like New Zealand's, and nobody could build one in time. Dave Ullman says there isn't even anything close.

One of the closest things is a maxi ultra-light, Citius, that Ullman sailed in last week's Cal Cup off Marina del Rey. It was curious that since Citius finished second in its class in last month's Newport-to-Ensenada race, owner Bill Wilson and his partners had refitted her with a taller mast and fractional rig, just like a 12-meter, and had bought a nearly new mainsail that Stars & Stripes had left over from its Fremantle inventory for $5,000.

Was this to be Stars & Stripes' backup boat if the syndicate needed a monohull in a hurry?

Ullman laughed out loud. The Newport Beach sailmaker said: "A sled's half the size of that (123-foot New Zealand) boat."

In other words, Ullman meant, Citius--or any other existing monohull--against the New Zealand boat would be as big a mismatch as the New Zealand boat against the high-tech catamaran. According to Ullman, he and Wilson were just the first to take advantage of a post-Fremantle sale on sails after converting their rig to match.

"We had access to a mainsail at a very cheap price," Ullman said.

New, the sails cost up to $20,000 each.

Discounting the possibility of a substitute boat, Ullman said that Ciparick's only reasonable course is to disqualify the catamarans and give Stars & Stripes time to build a similar monohull, delaying the defense until next May. That's probably what Stars & Stripes is counting on. Even Michael Fay probably wouldn't press for outright forfeiture of the Cup.

If the cat sails, though, it should win. So, what does Stars & Stripes have to lose, besides legal fees and a few million dollars of its sponsors' money?

Ullman, who has won world titles in big and little boats, is well versed in international sailing but carries no brief for either side in the Cup dispute. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have strong opinions, which often run counter to the flow.

"Fay's the villain here," Ullman said. "The boys in San Diego are not. He's found a loophole to get straight to the (Cup) finals. He's not looking for a match. He's looking to promote himself."

Ullman notes the growth of Auckland-based Fay-Richwhite, merchant bankers, since Fay burst upon the America's Cup scene in 1986.

"If he was looking for a match, he'd be sailing 12-meters," Ullman said.

Designers and sailors are split on the future of 12-meters, even in the Stars & Stripes camp. The 65-foot, 60,000-pound boats are relatively slow, but Dennis Conner says slow isn't all bad.

"The big danger is not to rush from 12-meters into another boat," he said. "If you start using boats that are real fast (and) you have a 10% difference in speed, you'll have a big difference in the distance between the boats, and then you don't have as interesting a race. In a race that's 3 hours long, that's 21 minutes apart.

"To have an exciting race, the way to go is to have boats similar in speed, with the speed slower. If you wanted real close racing, you'd have boats that went 3 knots."

But design chief John Marshall said: "I would expect at some point to get into unballasted boats--at some point when high performance sailing will break away from the tyranny of dragging lead through the water. We're having a little glimpse of it this time.

"I'm not sure we can pull the whole sport and the whole world together on that theme for '91, but sometime in the future we're going to kiss that ballast package goodby and really fly."

Meanwhile, Conner said, "We're not doing this for the spectators. We're doing this to beat Michael Fay."

Sailing Notes

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