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Kiwis Say They’ll Sail ‘Bloody Farce’ Here, Not San Pedro

Times Staff Writer

Leaders of New Zealand’s sailing syndicate say contesting the America’s Cup in their monohull against Sail America’s catamaran will be “a bloody farce” and that they aren’t even thinking about doing it in San Pedro Bay.

“We are shipping our boat to San Diego,” spokesman Peter Debreceny said by phone from Auckland on Wednesday.

The syndicate’s New York lawyer, George Tompkins, said: “If on the day of the first race we’re in San Diego and they’re in San Pedro, we’d go to court the next day and ask for forfeiture of the Cup.

“Common sense would dictate that the defense has to be in (what are considered) the home waters of the defender at the time the challenge is issued.”

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Otherwise, Tompkins said, the defender need only wait until the challenger, as required, commits his boat design to the anticipated conditions, and then move to a venue with different conditions--precisely what Sail America wants to do.

“They’re playing Russian roulette,” Tompkins said. “San Diego has to sail us in accordance with the notice of challenge.”

The statements followed syndicate chief Michael Fay’s earlier objections about having the races outside San Diego.

Meanwhile, Sail America proceeded with plans to base its boat operations in Long Beach and sail the defense in the San Pedro Channel somewhere between Pt. Fermin and Seal Beach.

Dennis Conner has been designated the skipper, but a more experienced, world-class catamaran sailor--probably Randy Smyth of Huntington Beach or Cam Lewis of Newport, R.I.--will actually steer.

Fay’s “New Zealand"--90 feet at the waterline and seven months of grief for Sail America--is scheduled to be launched March 27 in Auckland. It was already booked aboard a container ship from Auckland to Long Beach Harbor when Sail America announced last week that it was moving the venue there.

But, according to Debreceny, when the boat is unloaded it will still be placed on a truck and hauled down to San Diego.

That’s Fay’s way of telling Sail America he doesn’t think it has a right to move the venue out of its home waters, where Stars & Stripes thinks its catamaran would perform below its optimum because of lighter winds.

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Fay’s legal counsel, Andrew Johns, also speaking by phone from Auckland, discussed the venue, the catamaran and other disputed issues.

Johns did not cite any specific rules Sail America has violated, but he suggested the group is guilty of conflict of interest, poor sportsmanship and usurping excessive authority from the San Diego Yacht Club, for which it is managing the defense.

“Sail America wants to win the race out on the water,” Johns said. “Good on them. But you’ve got Sail America running the race. It’s like asking a rabbit to look after the lettuce patch.

“They’re looking at retaining the Cup not by being the best on the day but by being devious.

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“We were of the view that there was no uncertainty about the venue at all. The venue was where the San Diego Yacht Club was. That’s where the Cup was.

“And all this drama about no time to build a (monohull), that’s absurd. Our boat’s being built in four months, going at single shifts and not working on the weekends.

“There’s no issue about the venue. You sail where the yacht club is. Shifting the jolly racing 200 miles away, the only reason they’ve done it is to disadvantage the New Zealand boat and to make sure the boat they choose--a multihull--will have better sailing conditions.”

Johns claimed that Tom Ehman, Sail America’s executive director, said in a talk before the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco: “There’s no way the Kiwis can win this because we’ll choose a multihull and we’ll move the races to some place that won’t suit their boat.”

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Ehman and other Sail America leaders have freely admitted those motives and attempted to justify them as protecting an all-comers defense in San Diego in 1991 that would be worth an estimated $1.2 billion to the city.

Also, Sail America officials say, Long Beach is only half as far from San Diego as Newport, R.I.--site of every New York Yacht Club defense from 1920 through 1983--is from New York City.

The Kiwis counter that the defenses were moved to Newport by the “mutual consent” provision of the Deed of Gift and that everybody knew where the races would be when they challenged.

“If that’s the American way of playing sport . . . I’m not convinced the San Diego Yacht Club will subscribe to those things at all,” Johns said.

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San Diego Yacht Club Commodore Doug Alford wrote Fay in December assuring the Kiwi merchant banker that “Sail America’s performance of its management duties is subject to consultation with and approval by the San Diego Yacht Club.”

Gerry Driscoll, chairman of the seven-man Defense Committee appointed by the club, said earlier that while Sail America had been given a free hand to sail whatever kind of boat it wanted to, “after lots of discussion” the choice of venue still rested with the committee.

It was hoped that Sail America could come up with a design compatible with San Diego’s conditions, he said.

“If it couldn’t,” Driscoll said, “the committee would support another venue.”

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So when Sail America chose a catamaran, San Diego was given up in favor of Long Beach.

“If we had taken it to the Aleutians, that would have been a bit too much,” Driscoll said.

According to Johns: “We actually thought about challenging in a multihull. Four days before we challenged we dropped (it). We nearly submitted (a design with) the dimensions of a tennis court. We didn’t think it was legal. We weren’t comfortable with it. It fell down in a lot of areas.”

For one thing, New Zealand didn’t think a catamaran would work in San Diego.

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On that point, at least, the Kiwis and Sail America agree.

Now Sail America is suggesting that New Zealand’s boat, with a mast towering perhaps 180 feet above the water, may be illegally conceived, with hiking platforms or trapezes for the crew, a violation of Yacht Racing Rule 62, which Sail America plans to enforce.

The Kiwis fell silent, Sail America says, when the point was raised at a recent meeting.

“I’ve seen something about me sitting in a meeting looking stupid,” Johns said, laughing. “I may well be stupid, but are we supposed to tell (Sail America design chief) John Marshall what we’ve built?

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“We had to sit there and act completely dumb (rather than) tell him whether that rule affected our boat. I’m not even gonna tell you that I’ve read the rule.”

Another problem is the date of the first race.

Sail America, bound by New Zealand’s 10-month notice of challenge, plus the seven weeks the issue was in court, must be ready to sail by Sept. 15. The Olympic Games start in South Korea on Sept. 17, and New Zealand seems unwilling to wait until they wind up Oct. 2, which could mean a sharp reduction in media coverage for the Cup races.

“If there’s going to be a jolly old catamaran out there against a monohull, who cares?” Johns said. "(It would be) a bloody farce.”

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He fears it would be a mismatch, given a multihull’s inherent advantages over a monohull.

“Mismatch? You can’t get a bigger mismatch. (But) we concede nothing. All I concede is that they’ve got an enormous legal risk on their plate if they think that’s the way they’re gonna run it--an illegal, sporting, everything-you-like risk.

“It’s a national disgrace. It just won’t reflect true American character. If we did that in New Zealand, we’d be finished.”

There will be more talks, with the dates and the venue but probably not the boats a basis for bargaining. Ehman has said San Diego would be willing to sail as early as Sept. 4 to avoid an Olympic conflict.

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San Diego already is facing a Feb. 24 hearing in New York Supreme Court, where Britain’s Peter DeSavary, shut out of the ’88 challenge, has brought an action asking that the September races be postponed and that the San Diego Yacht Club be disenfranchised as trustee of the Cup.

New Zealand on Wednesday filed a motion to intervene. The case will go before Judge Carmen Ciparick, who allowed the Kiwis’ original challenge in July.

“We have our September race,” Tompkins said. “We won’t want that interfered with. It’s asking her to reconsider a decision that’s become final.”

Johns said: “At the end of the day, the legal risk is with the San Diego Yacht Club. We have our judgment. The court said, ‘You’ve got a match, chaps.’ As far as we’re concerned, it’s all up and running.”

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