Chris Dickson may have given some indication as to the future of the America's Cup when he sailed to three consecutive victories on the opening day of Congressional Cup competition at Long Beach Wednesday.
Sailing has become a game sailed on seas of dollars, pounds, yen and lire. Like free agents, the top sailors have been jumping national ships to sail for other countries whose well-funded but feeble efforts lacked only the talent needed to succeed.
Paul Cayard of San Francisco, for example, was the late Tom Blackaller's tactician at Fremantle in 1987 but is now employed by Raul Guardini's Il Moro syndicate, which spent $2 million last weekend for a lavish launching of its first development boat.
Nobody is laughing at the Italians anymore. With the next Cup scheduled in 1992, no U.S. boat is even off the drawing board.
But what worries the rest of the world even more is that Japan has brought the missing factor into the fold: the top-ranked match-racing sailor in the world, Chris Dickson.
The only restriction is that a sailor must have resided in a country for two years. Rod Davis of the United States now resides in New Zealand, having taken Dickson's place in Michael Fay's favor.
Dickson, 28, now calls Gamagori, Japan, home, because that is where the Nippon Challenge is based, about a 2 1/2-hour ride via bullet train from Tokyo.
"A lot of people are going a lot of different directions," Dickson said. "I've joined the Nippon Challenge as a prospective skipper for the Japanese."
He said "prospective," the same term used in a press release, but a few paragraphs later he was quoted: "I will be the designated skipper and play a key role with Namba and the team in the afterguard."
That would be Makoto Namba, who at least until recently was handing out business cards identifying himself as "America's Cup skipper."
"I'm very happy that he has joined the challenge," Namba said, maintaining a brave front. "Nobody knows who will steer the boat at this stage."
But anyone watching Wednesday's match between the two in the painstakingly equal new Catalina 37s would have no doubt who will be at the helm for Japan if the Cup were sailed next week.
Dickson won by 1 minute 15 seconds--a rout in this league--and wound up 3-0 for the day. Namba was 0-3.
Dickson split with Fay after their strong bid at Fremantle and has run off six consecutive victories on the World Match Racing circuit over the past year.
He got a leg up on a seventh Wednesday when his unbeaten record in the first three of nine races in the round-robin schedule was matched only by Costa Mesa sailmaker Robbie Haines, an '84 Olympic gold medalist whose forte is fleet racing.
Dickson's father Roy has managed the Nippon sailing program for the last 18 months, and Chris spent two months drilling the crew last year. Wednesday, for the first time in an event, two Japanese crewmen--Ken Hara and Jun Matsutadara--were among the seven people on his boat.
The wind was only five to eight knots for the first two rounds but increased to 13 as it swung west late in the afternoon, allowing the new, quick and nimble boats to stretch their legs.
Dickson's most serious challenge came from Larry Klein of San Diego, who twice came from behind on the last downwind legs to pass and defeat two America's Cup veterans--Australia's Peter Gilmour and Houston's John Kolius.
But against Dickson, Klein was called for a port-starboard foul (starboard has right-of-way) in the tight pre-start maneuvering six minutes before the gun. Dickson protested, and the on-the-water umpires ordered Klein to perform a 270-degree turn as a penalty immediately after their even start.
An angry Klein said: "We don't know what he was talking about. If I understand (the rule) one way, he understands it another way."
Dickson said: "He got into a situation that was dangerous for him, hesitated, and that was it."
And Dickson seems determined that nobody will get between him and the America's Cup.