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Professional Racing, for Prize Money by Paid Crews, Just Over Horizon

Events of the last year--San Diego and Dennis Conner winning the America’s Cup back from the Aussies, only to be blind-sided by New Zealand--have reshaped the future of sailing.

Professional sailing in the United States, with prize money and paid crews, is just over the horizon in 1988, and some boats in some major events will be fully sponsored. Those concepts would have caused a whole row of staff commodores to faint dead away in their blue blazers a few years ago.

But will the sport be better for it?

Bruce Kirby, who has designed 12-meter boats for Canadian America’s Cup challenges, thinks so.

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Kirby was quoted recently as saying that although New Zealand’s Michael Fay has caused an uproar among traditionalists by forcing San Diego to defend next year in larger, advanced boats, the episode “may have come just in time to rescue the world’s leading sailing event from the trash heap of sports history.”

San Diego says a big-boat bash will be too expensive for many of the smaller countries, which is why it is excluding everyone but New Zealand in ’88. San Diego figures it can more readily dispose of the Kiwi annoyance and then have everybody come in 12-meters in ’91.

The problem with that argument is that New Zealand, with only 3.2 million souls, is far smaller than any of the 10 countries represented in the 21 challenges submitted for ’91. It’s smaller than five of those countries even if you throw in the 17 million sheep.

But it takes only one man with money--Fay--to do it.

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Kirby and other boat designers--even Sail America’s own Britton Chance--are excited about building what Kirby calls “boats so big and so technologically advanced (that the event) will be unique in all of sport for the sheer majesty of the equipment and breadth of the arena.”

To non-sailors, the America’s Cup is not only the most important sailing event on earth, it’s the only one they can name, so it’s good for the sport that interest is at an all-time high.

But there could be negative spinoffs.

Greg Crum is a Santa Monica lawyer and longtime sailor who races in a fleet of Martin 242s out of Marina Del Rey on weekends.

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Crum, in a letter to Sail America leaders, worried that the Cup is “now sullied by civil litigation, unsportsmanlike one-upmanship and international invective. I see the results of this pervade all the way down to the club racing level (with) frequent and ineffectual protests, secret boat modifications and some real bad attitudes on the water.”

It’s important for weekend sailors to keep in mind that what they do has little to do with what Fay and Conner do. Certainly, winning remains important, or why would a Cal 20 skipper spend $1,000 on a new suit of sails to win a $10 trophy?

But are the stakes worth a trip to court--or even a protest room?

“A good contest--on the water--is what it is all about,” Crum said.

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Unfortunately, part of the problem is built in. A minority of racing sailors who thoroughly understand the complex rules try to use them to disqualify rivals--often before a race even starts--instead of relying on their sailing skills to win.

Garry Hoyt, described by American Sailor magazine as “American sailing’s foremost free-thinker,” proposes “a (new) racing system designed to avoid protests rather than create them (and) disqualification only in the case of flagrant fouls or personal misconduct.”

Hoyt also complains that “the sport of sailboat racing . . . is basically inaccessible, uninteresting and incomprehensible to live audiences.”

Hoyt adds that it also is highly intimidating to newcomers, especially non-sailors.

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Most sailors are ordinary people, certainly from the middle and upper classes but, then, so are skiers, golfers and tennis players.

But sailboat racing is more commonly known as yacht racing or yachting--elitist terms--and the whole sport suffers for it.

“Yacht racing,” Hoyt says. “The very name implies ‘out of reach.’ ”

In a way, it is. Although skiers, golfers and tennis players can enjoy their pleasures on public slopes, courses and courts, in most cases if a sailor wants to do any yacht racing, he must belong to a yacht club.

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Nearly every race announcement states: “This race is open to members of recognized yacht clubs . . . “

For the sake of organization, clubs may be necessary to run events, but do they keep them exclusive, as well?

The Performance Handicap Racing Fleet’s function is to issue handicap ratings to members for mixed-boat competition, but you can’t join PHRF, either, unless you belong to a yacht club.

A few organizations have responded to the heightened interest with programs to spread the sport to the masses. One is the National Sailing Industry Assn., which has a national, toll-free number--1-800-447-4700--to tell callers where they may learn to sail.

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You don’t have to be a member of a yacht club to call.

NSIA’s executive director, George Rounds, has even led a move to change the name of the Olympic Yachting Center at Pusan to “Olympic Sailing Center.”

“The fear of yachting being elitist strongly cut into ABC’s network television coverage (at) the 1984 Long Beach Olympics (venue),” Rounds claimed.

With pro racing, the Olympics and the San Diego-New Zealand showdown, sailing interest will grow in ’88, but participation won’t unless the sport makes itself more accessible and less intimidating to outsiders.

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It also can be more fun for those who realize they don’t have to approach it as if it were the America’s Cup.

LOCAL EVENTS--Some sailors can’t wait. Del Rey Yacht Club will stage the first race of the year Saturday, opening the Berger series with a run from Marina del Rey to Malibu and back. The 150 entries include eight maxis. . . . Seal Beach YC’s annual Midwinter Tuneups will be Jan. 23-24. The Midwinter races are scheduled Feb. 13-14-15. It’s this area’s largest annual regatta of the year, with competition in various classes all along the coast. . . . The Pacific Singlehanded Sailing Assn. will start its five-race, five-month Dan Byrne Island series Jan. 30, from Marina del Rey around Catalina’s Ship Rock and back.

NOTEWORTHY--Jay Glaser, formerly known as half of the world’s top Tornado catamaran crew, along with Huntington Beach sail maker and former employer Randy Smyth, has opened his own sail loft on Signal Hill with partner Steve Keefe.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 42, will start a six-week series of basic sailing and seamanship classes Jan. 11 at the California YC, 4469 Admiralty Way, in Marina del Rey. The classes are open to the public at a cost of $15. They will be held each Monday at 7:30 p.m. and last two hours each night. No pre-registration is required.

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A new state law banning the application of bottom paints containing tributylin (TBT) on boats less than 82 feet long takes effect Friday. Similar laws already exist in eight states, with California among 20 more following suit. Scientists says TBT is harmful to shellfish and other aquatic life. . . . John Kudgate of International Paint said: “Boat owners will have to haul more often and paint more often.” But others believe a non-stick product such as Teflon will ultimately replace toxic anti-fouling coatings--and be faster, as well.

The Women’s Sailing Assn. of Santa Monica Bay will conduct its annual race clinics Jan. 26 for beginners and Jan. 28 for advanced sailors, then have a race Jan. 31--Super Bowl Sunday. Deadline for reservations, which are $27.50, is Jan. 15. Information: (213) 374-0180. The WSA’s annual Marilyn Butefish Award for advancing women’s sailing was presented to Gail Hine of Rolling Hills Estates.

PRO SAILING--Promoter Bruce Golison’s annual Sobstad Race Week off Long Beach June 24-26 will now be the Audi-Sobstad Race Week. The German auto manufacturer also has taken up sponsorship of the Southern Ocean Racing Conference series in February and March. . . . Golison’s new event, the Yachting Pro-Am April 11-17, apparently will draw at fewest five One Ton entries at $10,000 each but may not make class for the ultra-light maxi-sleds. Only two have entered so far. Guaranteed prize money is $25,000 for first place, with money also going to succeeding places if entries increase.

The proposed ProSail series for 12-meters starting at Newport, R.I., in June may have collapsed. . . . The Ultimate Yacht Race, May 6-16 at Corpus Christi, Tex., claims to have 13 entries in the 30-foot class, at $20,000 each but just dropped the J-24 fee to $10,000, indicating that entries there weren’t overwhelming. The 30s supposedly will compete for $1 million, winner take all.

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