SAN DIEGO — Can't pin this one on Mother Nature. Typically, sailboat races are delayed because of wind conditions on the race course.
The 20-minute delay on the first day of the 28th America's Cup Saturday off Point Loma had no such roots. This one was late because the 560-strong spectator fleet got in the way.
"It was a combination of things," said John Hollis, Coast Guard representative. "We had to direct people to a different orientation on the race course then they were used to, and there were a lot more people than usual. It took a while for them to get used to the new scheme."
The race committee sets up the start-finish line according to the wind direction. When the course direction was set north-to-south, instead of the usual east-to-west, spectator boats coming out west past Point Loma were virtually on the race course.
America's Cup Organizing Committee representatives are on board the USCG's cutters, and the race doesn't start without the ACOC's approval. Hollis said there was no breakdown in communication; it simply takes a while to establish order on the high seas.
"It's different than at the stadium when you tell people to stay behind the white line. Here, you have to orient them around moving objects," Hollis said.
During the months of trials leading up to the finals, the U.S. Coast Guard has had as few as three or four crafts patrolling the waters. With the surge of spectator boats for the actual America's Cup, that number has risen to 40.
Skippers Paul Cayard of Il Moro di Venezia and Buddy Melges of America 3 praised the crowd control.
To avoid confusion, the America's Cup Organizing Committee urged all spectator boats to monitor VHF channel 19 Alpha for race information and instructions.
Bill Koch, wearing a microphone for television, was audible throughout Saturday's race, including when he was conked in the head by a running backstay.
But Il Moro's Cayard has resisted wearing a microphone, although it's in the rules for the Cup match.
"It's a little more complex than that," Cayard said. "It's still being worked out. We didn't sail that way in the past. We had microphones on board in certain locations. We have our own preferences in a way not to effect our sailing style.
"It's always been an aim of mine to do everything we can to promote our sport and allow the public to understand our sport, but on the other hand my priority is to win this regatta."
Koch took no chances and had both a Roman Catholic priest and an American Indian appeal for divine blessings upon his boat.
America 3 was blessed in an ecumenical service Saturday morning by Father John Duggin of Newport, R.I.--a priest with an impressive track record in such matters.
He blessed the Pittsburgh Steelers twice, and they won two Super Bowls, 1975 and 1976. He was not with them the following two years and they failed to reach the big game. But he returned and they won it all again in 1979 and 1980.
In addition to the priest, said Koch: "An American Indian gave his blessing for today, which takes care of Mother Earth."
Kurtis Kekahdah of the Kanza Indian tribe, for whom Koch's native state of Kansas was named, gave him a crow's feather to carry on board for good fortune.