The storm warnings went up when the Long Beach Yacht Club invited Tom Blackaller back to compete in its prestigious Congressional Cup match racing series a year ago, and the forecasts were accurate.
Blackaller, a world-class sailor from San Francisco, can be alternately as charming as a summer breeze or as abrasive as a chain saw. He left after losing all six of his races over the first two days, complaining of a slow boat and a poor mainsail.
He wasn't invited back for the competition starting next Wednesday, and he doesn't plan to attend as a spectator.
"I don't think I could get into the Long Beach Yacht Club," he said by phone.
Without Blackaller, the field still is one of the strongest ever in the series, in which 10 skippers sail a round-robin series in Catalina 38 sloops.
Dave Perry of Southport, Conn., is the two-time defending champion, and he'll be challenged by seven others with America's Cup credentials or ambitions: Ted Turner, Dennis Conner, Rod Davis and John Kolius of the United States, Mauro Pellaschier of Italy, Chris Dickson of New Zealand and Harold Cudmore of Great Britain.
In addition, Jack Gobbell of Huntington Harbor and John Shadden of Long Beach qualified in local sailoffs.
Blackaller knows most of the competitors well.
"The winner will be Davis, Perry or Conner," Blackaller said. "I'm gonna pick Davis to win, Perry to get second, Shadden to get third."
"Yeah, the reason I'm doing that is he's young, his crew will have practiced down there, he's local, he'll be more enthusiastic than anybody and he'll get above where he should get.
"I'm not saying he's better than Conner or Kolius, but that in this particular thing he'll be a surprise.
"Conner will be fourth, Kolius will be fifth, Cudmore will be sixth, Turner will be seventh, Mauro will be eighth, Gobbell will be ninth and Dickson will be last."
Davis, Conner and Kolius head three of the United States' strongest America's Cup campaigns for 1987. Turner defended the cup in 1977, as Conner did in 1974 and 1980 before losing it to Australia in 1983.
The skippers will draw for boats and sails Monday morning. Sometimes the outcome has been decided then and there. Just ask Blackaller.
This year the club will try to reduce the boat differential by racing over four days instead of three and rotating boats each day. Blackaller doesn't think it will make a big difference for some.
"You really can't tell," he said, "but I'll tell you, Turner, Mauro, Gobbell or Dickson will not win. Turner hasn't even sailed for three years, so you can't expect him to come out there and be competitive at all. He's got a crew he hasn't sailed with.
"These guys like Perry and Davis and Shadden and Conner and Kolius will all be sailing with guys that sail with them all the time."