SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are concerned about the security implications ofthe Soviet Union's participation in the America's Cup at San Diego, but another form of espionage is occurring every day.
Seven of the new America's Cup boats have been sailing around San Diego for the past few weeks, building on one burning question:
"How fast \o7 we \f7 are compared to \o7 them,\f7 " said Stu Argo of the America-3 crew.
Few will say they care--yet.
But four of the 14 syndicates already sailing toward 1992 are watching one another. When they go out to sail, rivals follow in chase boats, shooting video. Sometimes a strange helicopter will swoop past.
Occasionally, a boat will try to line up with a rival boat. All of them have electronic instruments to tell them how well they are sailing and should be sailing. But the best way to rate your boat is to sail alongside another one.
"The sailors call it 'checking in,' " said Peter Isler, America's top-ranked match racer who was Dennis Conner's navigator at Fremantle in 1986-87. "The instruments just aren't as accurate as checking in with another boat."
The Nippon Challenge, the Italians' Il Moro di Venezia syndicate and New Zealand have an advantage over America-3. They all have two boats to play off each other. For the time being,America-3 has only one.
Argo said, "When we've been out there, the Kiwis don't want to sail with us. Marc Pajot and the French were sailing the boat one day when the Japanese were out. They kind of eased their sails and sailed off the other way."
Chris Dickson, the Nippon skipper, said, "It's the one-boat teams that want to come over and play. They don't have anyone else to play with."
Argo admits it: "We're not avoiding anybody. We'll sail with anybody."
Eventually, they will. Even those with two boats have to be sure \o7 both \f7 of their boats aren't slow.
New Zealand skipper David Barnes said, "It's important that we do check in to see how (fast) we are before the worlds (in May). If you're slow, you'd better find out early.
"But we're not hunting people down. Being a new type of boat, we've got a lot to learn in tuning the rig and just getting the sails up and down."
Sometimes a syndicate's chase boat will manuever between its sailboat and rival snoopers, but there haven't been any serious incidents yet.
"It's too early in the game," said America-3's Bill Campbell, who is in his third Cup campaign. "Nobody wants to ruffle anybody's feathers."
Campbell said that even some of the syndicates that don't have boats yet--such as Team Dennis Conner--have been checking out rivals.
"They don't have anything better to do," Barnes said.
Conner would have died for one look at Australia II's winged keel in 1983. At Fremantle in 1986-87, whenever word got out that a boat had a new keel, helicopters followed it out to take pictures through the clear waters of the Indian Ocean.
Still, midway through the competition in December, New Zealand was able to test a new gennaker headsail and surprise rivals with it on the race course.
Who knows, there might be little spy submarines lurking off Pt. Loma right now.
Mainly, Argo said, the rivals are "looking at techniques, how the deck's laid out, how they're trimming their sails, how the mast is tuned."
Campbell: "We're all looking for ideas."
Hence, the videos.
"It's frustrating," said Barnes, who tries not to look over his shoulder. "But we've got to keep doing whatever we're doing. Otherwise, we wouldn't get anything done."
But has anyone really learned anything interesting?
"Yes," Argo said.
And then he just smiled.
Ashore, security is easier to guard. At Newport, R.I., and Fremantle, where the crews lived within bicycling distance of one another, some information was exchanged idly over brews at the local saloons. In his book "Comeback," Conner said his frequent nocturnal forays were largely to collect information from loose-lipped crewmen.
Metropolitan San Diego is more difficult. The crews and compounds are separated by several miles, and sailors usually see one another only on the water.
Approaching the Il Moro di Venezia compound along the sidewalk on Shelter Island Drive, a visitor is met by a solid steel door as a surveillance camera scans him from above.
He pushes the buzzer. A loudspeaker asks who he is. That test passed, the door clicks and admits him into a small enclosure. A uniformed guard steps out of an office as two more cameras scan the grounds.
Security for the other syndicates might not be as sophisticated as the Italians, but it's equally tight. The New Zealand team on Coronado Island and the Nippon Challenge on Mission Bay are enclosed by tarp-covered chain-link fences topped with barbed wire, with guards from hired security services at the gates.