The mayor howled “politics.” The yacht club cried foul. The businessmen wrung their hands at the $1.2 billion that they may never see.
But a small, delighted contingent of New Zealanders smiled broadly into their Steinlagers and spoke of the deep sense of satisfaction that a little justice can bring.
In a city of long, disappointed faces, only San Diego’s tiny, spirited Kiwi community was beaming Tuesday about Judge Carmen Ciparick’s decision to forfeit the America’s Cup to New Zealander Michael Fay.
“We believe in fair play,” Christchurch, New Zealand native Kay Quick said earnestly. “We believe in good competition, an honest competition. And it was not that. Unfortunately, (Fay) had to go to court to prove that.”
Hastily Prepared Celebration
Some gathered after work at the offices of the New Zealand Marketing Network on Fir Street for a hastily prepared celebration of the legal victory. Nothing fancy--a few Steinlager beers, some champagne, cake and sausage rolls. They acknowledged their dismay that the courts, not the seas, had determined the winner of yachting’s most prestigious prize, the 138-year-old America’s Cup.
But they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a time of great pride,” said Patricia Thornton, president of the network, which publicizes and markets upscale New Zealand tourist lodges and several other industries. “It’s a time to sort of just puff your chest out and say, ‘well done, Kiwis. We did it.’ ”
“Now we get on with what the America’s Cup was all about, which is competition between sportsmen, not between men with lots of money,” said Fiona Barr, a New Zealand tourist attending the party.
“I’m delighted. I’m delighted that the decision has gone for New
Zealand. And also I think it restores my confidence in the American system of justice,” New Zealand native Ian Biggwither, president of Anzam Industries, said in a telephone interview from his Escondido office.
The county’s tiny Kiwi community--there are about 300 members of the Australia New Zealand America Club and just 50 members of the San Diego New Zealand Business Assn.--was an island in a sea of bitterness about Ciparick’s ruling.
Sparing no drama, County Supervisor Brian Bilbray, a member of the America’s Cup Organizing Committee, spoke with anger of what he sees as the decision’s unfairness to Stars & Stripes Skipper Dennis Conner, who won the Cup off Australia in 1987 and vanquished Kiwi Michael Fay’s monohull last summer with a much faster catamaran.
“Dennis won this on the crashing seas of the Indian Ocean, and to sit there and see it all go for naught in the courtrooms of New York, that must be very frustrating to the best sailor in the world,” Bilbray said.
‘A Contest of Law’
Port Commission Chairman Louis Wolfsheimer, a powerful development attorney, noted that “it seems like this race is no longer a race of who’s got the swiftest boats, but who’s got the best politics and the best lawyers. They’ve turned this into a contest of law.”
The business community mourned the loss of $1.2 billion in economic benefits that would have come to the regional economy during a 1991 Cup defense. And Mayor Maureen O’Connor implied that Ciparick’s ruling was tainted by loyalties to the New York Yacht Club.
“I hate to say this decision was politically motivated, but we all know the New York Yacht Club wanted the Cup to go to New Zealand so they could compete for it on foreign soil in 1991,” O’Connor said at an impromptu news conference at Lindbergh Field.
With an appeal likely, San Diego Yacht Club member Bruce Harmer declared: “I’m not brokenhearted about this yet. It’s not over until it’s over. This is just a milestone.”
Note of Ambivalence
If there was a note of ambivalence from local Kiwis, it was about the missed opportunity to host the Cup defense here, and the economic benefits that could be lost.
One native New Zealander, Kingsley McLaren, program director at radio station KFSD, actually disdained the sport entirely, calling it a contest between “rich, spoiled, children playing with a lot of money.”
But, after nearly a year of hearing people say the Kiwis got what they deserved, many of them were content to savor their moment of victory and look forward to a Cup defense Down Under.
“Let’s get out and get on the water and have a race,” Quick said. “That’s what we need to do.”
Don Patterson also contributed to this report from San Diego.