International Celebrity Goes Sailing Along

The celebrity flies first-class, with an escort in the adjoining seat, cosseted by deferential in-flight service. As is the privilege of a world dignitary.

Personal appearances, maybe 15 a month, are preceded by calls to the intelligence units of local police departments. As is customary for symbols of global supremacy.

Grabby crowds are a constant threat, and a recent exit from a New York building turned into an escape in the arms of a security man while bundled beneath a white terry towel bathrobe.

Such eclat is insured for $250,000. Armed guards shadow each public stop. The bodyguard is an ex-FBI agent.

So goes the life of the recaptured America's Cup. Yet is it genuinely a threatened existence?

"Somebody might attempt to take it for any number of reasons and at this point, our concern has to be for the unknown," said Ron Davis, that former FBI man, now America's Cup cop. "It (motive) could be everything from a fraternity prank to a ransom attempt, from someone trying to make a name for themselves or to promote an issue."

To date, Davis said, there have been no vandalism threats nor attempts at cupnaping. But then nobody signaled the move before stealing the Mona Lisa.

"And the America's Cup is a priceless heirloom," Davis continued. "The threat level remains directly proportionate to the level of publicity, and the level of publicity surrounding the America's Cup is high."

Davis spent 12 years as a foreign counterintelligence specialist with the FBI. He remains in the spy-busting business as manager of industrial security for the space systems division of General Dynamics, San Diego.

Three years ago, as a labor of his love of sailing, he accepted Dennis Conner's invitation to draft a security program for Stars & Stripes, the San Diego Yacht Club's campaign to regain the America's Cup from Australia.

It was Davis' professional wiles--from setting underwater motion sensors to painting syndicate boats the same color to confuse performance analyses--that maintained the secrecy of Conner's hull and keel designs.

And in February--when Conner's $15-million counterattack was done--Davis began his work as America's Cup consort.

More than 60,000 people turned out to see the San Diego motorcade for Conner and the cup. . . . It was Davis on the 11 p.m. news who was running alongside Conner's convertible: "In those early stages the cup was very vulnerable, and I could just see someone grabbing it and pulling the spout right off."

President Reagan hosted a reception for Conner and crew. . . . It was Davis who hand-carried the cup to the White House to be greeted by a bomb dog: "White House security could not dismantle the cup, so the dog had to sniff to see it wasn't filled with explosives."

In New York there was a ticker-tape parade . . . and it was Davis--with the cup wrapped in a hotel bathrobe and Davis wrapped in a flying wedge of New York's finest--making a mad dash through a side door ahead of delirious crowds: "We were getting in the car when a woman looked at my bundle and said, 'Oh, it's a body.' For 18 blocks we had a photographer running alongside trying to get pictures of whatever we were hiding on the back seat."

Now, however, there's a smart carrying case for the cup. Soon, there will be an alarmed, lighted, mobile display case designed by the Smithsonian expert who prepared the Tutankhamen treasures.

The America's Cup is polished by a San Diego jeweler and, on occasions, by Davis, who often refers to the trophy in the feminine. So she is on display at the Del Mar Fair through Thursday, and in case you're wondering. . . .

Attachment of that gender to the shapely, soft silver cup was neither by accident nor nautical tradition, Davis explained.

"Once, on an airplane, somebody pulled a white sweater over the cup. It was already wrapped in the robe. We added a rose and . . . well, belted down it looked a little like Dolly Parton."

Del Mar Fair, Del Mar Fairgrounds, until July 5. (619) 755-1161.

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