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America’s Cup : Left-Out Challengers Are Angry, Say San Diego Taking Wrong Tack

Times Staff Writer

When it comes to fostering good will in the international sailing community, the San Diego Yacht Club and Sail America Foundation seem to be right there with the good old New York Yacht Club.

The San Diego team’s announcement Wednesday that it planned to exclude all but New Zealand from a court-enforced challenge in 1988 came across to most of the English-speaking sailing world Thursday as a typically imperious attitude by a custodian of the America’s Cup.

Ben Lexcen, the designer for Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond, told a New Zealand newspaper, the Auckland Sun: “The United States, this once-great nation and land of the free, is chicken-hearted. The American emblem, the bald eagle, should be changed to a spastic canary.

“The decision smacks of 300 million people in the most technologically advanced place in the world being dead scared of three million sheep farmers.”

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Lexcen’s implication was that San Diego believes it must concentrate all of its resources on Michael Fay’s New Zealand threat with the 90-foot waterline to protect its planned defense in conventional 12-meters in 1991. A survey has indicated that a full-blown defense in San Diego in ’91 would generate $1.2 billion for the economy.

Tom Ehman, Sail America executive, said: “We feel bad as hell, but I’d say the response I’m getting is extremely positive from the other challengers.”

He meant those who had filed challenges for ’91.

“We’re fighting for 18 other challengers,” Ehman said. “There are three challengers on one hand that want to play Fay’s ballgame, and we’ve got 18 on the other hand that want to play our game--and really 21 because those other three have said they’d play either game.

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“Unfortunately, people are upset with us. The Mercury Bay (New Zealand) people are screaming like stuck pigs. Yes, the Australians are understandably upset. They’re understandably upset in the U.K. These guys are all being disenfranchised, and we feel terrible for Bondy. We feel terrible for everybody.

“But to be upset with us is misdirected. It wasn’t us that caused the problem.”

Ehman produced a letter Fay had sent to San Diego Yacht Club Commodore Fred Frye last July 23, a week after Fay had handed Frye his challenge, purporting to prove that Fay’s initial intent was to exclude all other challengers.

The third paragraph of the letter reads: “Any conflict between the recent format of multiple challenges and the right to a match claimed by Notice of Challenge under the terms of the Deed must be resolved in favour of the provisions of the Deed . . . “

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Since then, Fay has championed a multiple challenge and offered to conduct an elimination series to pick a boat to face San Diego’s entry.

Ehman said: “He changed his position after getting a lot of outside pressure.”

Ehman also said the other challengers understand.

“The worldwide response has been extremely favorable, as far as I can tell,” he said. “I’ve got letters of congratulations from other syndicates.”

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Britain’s Peter de Savary, like Bond a veteran Cup campaigner, noted as New York Justice Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick had in her decision that the yacht club and Sail America left themselves open for Fay’s challenge by wrangling between themselves over selection of the defense committee.

“They spent the first five months (after winning the Cup) arguing among themselves how they were going to make money out of the event instead of focusing on defending the trophy,” De Savary said in Sports Illustrated. "(They) deserve all they are getting now.”

At least two others besides Bond and De Savary want in for ’88: France’s Alain Pastur and Japan’s Masakazu Kobayashi. They will meet in New York next Thursday to discuss plans, a day after the International 12-Meter Assn. meets in the same city.

Bond said: “I am angry that after issuing six consecutive challenges, I’m now being told that I am not going to be able to participate in what will surely be the most spectacular defense of the Cup in 50 years.”

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Ehman said that Sail America had received a draft of Ciparick’s order prepared by Fay’s lawyers Thursday. Sail America’s lawyers will have five days to make changes in the wording, in agreement with their New Zealand counterparts, and then it will go to Ciparick for her signature.

When she signs it, the clock will re-start on New Zealand’s 10-month notice of challenge, as required by the Deed of Gift. Ehman said that seven weeks had run off between Fay’s challenge and the September hearing when it stopped.

Ehman also said that the 90-day notice Sail America proposes to give Fay on announcing the venue is an arbitrary time not stipulated by the deed.

“The lawyers tell us we have to do what is reasonable . . . to give him time to get his boat there and get himself set up,” Ehman said.

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Dennis Conner, who was in Australia when the court decision came through last week, checked the time frame and was quoted in the Aukland Sun as saying, “We can’t win. There’s no way in the world they can design the boat, do all the engineering, all the structural calculations and then construct the boat and get it into the water.”

Fay’s boat will be of fiberglass and, despite what Sail America suggests, is not a throwback to the giant J-boats of the 1930s. It is more likely a state-of-the-art sailing machine worthy of competing for sailing’s greatest prize.

Bond, an old adversary who knows Conner well, scoffed at what he perceived to be the first volley of a propaganda campaign.

“We cannot believe that . . . the San Diego Yacht Club, representing one of the most powerful and technologically advanced people in the world, is only prepared to accept one challenge from New Zealand, a country of three million people,” Bond said.

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Ehman said: “Dennis is a pretty savvy guy. When Dennis says something like that, you know we have a problem. It will be extremely difficult to pull this off.”


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