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The Exciting Maneuvering Was on a Spectator Yacht

Times Staff Writer

They paid $250 each to watch the America’s Cup from a schooner, and the 80 people aboard, many of them serious sailors, probably witnessed some of the finest maneuvering on rolling seas in quite some time.

They balanced their gin and tonics, and hardly spilled a drop. The hostess worked her way across the bobbing deck without dropping a single chocolate-dipped strawberry. The passengers below shifted their weight perfectly with the swells so they could tack first for the shrimp pasta, and then back to the fresh melons.

Oh yeah, they also watched the race. Well, some did. Others slept through it. Some said it would have been the most exciting event of the day, were it not for the school of Pacific white-sided dolphin that jumped through the water directly at the Invader from a right angle, probably winning more ooohs and ahhhs--and pictures--than any catamaran sailing on Wednesday. But then, wasn’t Roy Disney’s sailing sloop Pyewacket, with its Mickey Mouse pennant, gorgeous? Click, click, click. And what about Michael Fay’s sleek wonder yacht, the Antipodean? Click, click, click. Oh look, there’s a Coast Guard boat approaching! Click, click, click.

But back to the real action.

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How many roast beef sandwiches can a person balance in 3-foot swells? How many mimosas can you carry to the aft deck for your buddies without dropping your quiche? How many business cards can you swap during the day for future networking?

And so it went Wednesday aboard the schooner Invader, which offered passage--at $250 a pop--to persons who wanted to watch the first race of the America’s Cup with as much elitism as can be provided on a public boat.

So who was on board?

People such as 32-year-old Morgan St. John, an investment banker from Los Angeles who says he loves sailing with a passion--and couldn’t resist calling into his office for messages on the cellular phone he brought aboard with him.

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“Hi. I’m out here on a boat . . . " his calls started.

‘Quintessential Yuppie’

“He’s your quintessential yuppie,” joked his brother, Mark St. John. “I mean, he drives a BMW.”

People such as Bruce and Sue Lyon, who woke up Tuesday morning in their home in West Palm Beach, Fla., and decided at the last minute to fly out to San Diego to watch Wednesday’s race. Why? Hey, why not?

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“I suppose if I was still home, I’d be changing the cat litter right about now,” Sue Lyon said, laughing.

People such as Joseph and Barbara Trybala, from Leonia, N.J., and Dr. Steve Norman, a pathologist from Alexandria, La., and Frank Hall, from Toronto and Tom Nagel, from Hamburg, West Germany--serious sailors all of them, who wanted to eyeball the America’s Cup duel and who flew into San Diego this week and met one another aboard the Invader.

‘VCR Going at Home’

People such as Mark and Norma Johns, who came in from Phoenix because, as he said, “We want to experience this.” And what if the couple won’t see much of the action? “I’ve got my VCR going at home,” he said.

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Good thing, too, because the passengers aboard the Invader didn’t fare much better than the rest of the spectators who hoped to see the America’s Cup defended off San Diego.

The Coast Guard estimated that a flotilla of 1,000 boats bobbed and heaved off Point Loma on Wednesday with virtually no problem--which isn’t to say there weren’t still complaints.

The best seats in the house were reserved for officials’ boats, media boats and yachts of the race sponsors. For the outward leg of the race, most spectator boats were kept 2 miles from the competing sailboats, and people complained there wasn’t much to see at sea.

The cynicism could even be heard over the maritime radio, given this retort when the Coast Guard announced to the spectator boats at one point to keep their distance.

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‘Keep Us Posted’

“Then why don’t you keep us posted (on the race) since you’re the only ones who can see anything,” said one frustrated skipper on the radio, without identifying himself.

On the homeward leg, a few dozen boats brought up the end, half a mile behind New Zealand’s big boat, but a couple of hours of watching a dirty-brown sail takes its toll. Soon, photographers started focusing on the two blimps that circled overhead. Others played backgammon.

The Coast Guard, too, joined the cynicism as the racing boats seemed to be moving painfully slowly through the light winds. “What’s the estimated time for the race to be over?” an unknown skipper asked the Coast Guard on his radio. “Sept. 7,” an official replied for all to hear.

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Eric Lund’s strategy, as captain of the Invader, was to skedaddle out to the turn-around buoy, 20 miles from the start-finish line. At that point, he reasoned, he could maneuver his schooner to within half a mile of the course and watch Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes and Michael Fay’s New Zealand turn for home.

More than a few passengers aboard gritted their teeth as smaller boats crept within the half-mile buffer zone established by the Coast Guard, without repercussion. Lund held back, then followed the New Zealand back toward land. Viewing time of the Stars & Stripes was maybe 20 minutes at best.

'$12 a Minute’

“I figure that’s $12 a minute,” said George Bepko, an insurance claims adjuster from Milford, Conn., who flew out to watch the race. “I would have preferred to have been closer, but I still got a little slice of heaven.”

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William Perez, a construction superintendent from Long Beach, figures the nine hours aboard the Invader was still worth it--choppy water, gray skies and all.

“The thing about paying this much money to go out on the Invader,” he reasoned, “is that not that many people are on the boat.”

Which meant, of course, that there was plenty of food and liquor for everyone. The 600 sandwich rolls. The two cases of Danish. The 100 pounds of beef and turkey, sliced to order. The 60 pounds of fruit and 40 pounds of salads. And the 35 quarts of clam chowder. Please, Lund pleaded into his microphone as the Invader entered San Diego Harbor at day’s end, please have seconds on the clam chowder!

By race’s end, the consensus was that viewing the race from the Invader was, well, all right, if not a tad boring.

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“I’m glad I came out,” said Bepko. “Just seeing all these boats (in the flotilla reentering San Diego Bay) is great. And San Diego’s a beautiful town. I even won tickets today to see the San Diego Zoo!”


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