THE YEAR IN REVIEW : A Look Ahead, Behind : Many Struggled Through ‘88, but Near Year Offers Hope : AMERICA’S CUP

Share via

With apologies to David Letterman, we offer lists detailing what happened in 1988 and, in some cases, how 1988 will impact 1989 .

Seven reasons why the 1988 America’s Cup defense was a farce:

1. It did not occur to New Zealand’s Michael Fay that Stars & Stripes would be a catamaran.

New Zealand had made its surprise challenge in a 90-foot monohull in July 1987, assuming Sail America would respond in kind.

The Kiwi challenge, based on a literal interpretation of the America’s Cup Deed of Gift, was upheld in the New York Supreme Court in November 1987.


But the same literal interpretation of the Deed of Gift caused Sail America to respond with the catamaran.

2. San Diego, home of the San Diego Yacht Club, was left hanging for months on whether the 1988 races would be held off the San Diego coast.

At one point, the City of San Diego was actually rebuffed in court in an attempt to assert its right to be a party to the competition.

Indeed, on Jan. 22, Sail America announced that the races would be held off either Long Beach or Hawaii. In March, Sail America finally announced that the races would be off the San Diego coast in September.

3. Michael Fay complained about Stars & Stripes’ commercialism.

Responding to the Marlboro logo on Stars & Stripes, New Zealand hoisted a sail that said: “Surgeon General’s Warning: Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health” in the days leading up to the first race.

Curiously, Stars & Stripes skipper Dennis Conner was race commodore for an American Cancer Society regatta.


4. Michael Fay whined and complained about how horrible this mismatch was going to be.

For months and months, he complained.

Encountering a couple of women bicyclists near the Kiwi compound, he said: “Do you ladies know what this race will be like? Why, it will be like you two racing your bicycles against motorbikes.”

Just before the racing, Fay announced the results of a Kiwi-commissioned Gallup Poll which concluded that 53% of Americans thought the race was unfair.

He did not make a big issue of the fact that 51% of Americans polled were unaware of any such controversy.

5. The races were horrible mismatches.

Stars & Stripes won the first race by 18 minutes 15 seconds on Sept. 7 and concluded a sweep of the best-of-three series with a 21-minute 10-second victory 2 days later.

6. Sportsmanship was as horrible as the competition.

The Kiwis accused Conner of intentionally sandbagging to keep the margin of victory from being even greater than it was.

“I consider what they did to be disgraceful,” skipper David Barnes said.

“They should have gone out there and beaten us by 1 1/2 to 2 hours,” designer Bruce Farr said.


That was after the first race. After the second race, a press conference turned into a literal and verbal shoving match with grown men called each other liars and losers.

7. It’s not over.

Naturally, Michael Fay went back to the New York Supreme Court to ask that the race be forfeited to New Zealand because of how unfair it was that his monohull had to race against a catamaran.

Presumably, the outcome of this continuing legal hassle will provide a farcical beginning to 1989.