San Diego Yacht Club to Appeal Court Ruling

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego Yacht Club announced Monday that it will appeal a court decision to award the America’s Cup to New Zealander Michael Fay.

The decision to appeal all but assures that there will be no America’s Cup races in 1991 in the waters off San Diego, and the move could delay the races indefinitely.

“Our decision to appeal was not an easy one and was reached with care and deliberation,” said SDYC Commodore Patrick Goddard. “Going to court is not our preference. For over 100 years we have been sailors and competitors, and we believe that yacht races should be decided on the water. Given the principle involved, we are left with no choice.”


The yacht club had been faced with conflicting pressures between business interests and sailing interests in deciding whether to appeal, according to sources within the club and the America’s Cup Organizing Committee. The business interests were concerned about the loss of an estimated $1.2 billion the 1991 Cup defense was expected to pump into the San Diego economy. The sailing interests were worried that further delays in putting the race back on the water would damage the Cup and the image of the sport in the long run.

Goddard said the nine-member yacht club board voted unanimously to appeal the decision after a similar recommendation Saturday from the ACOC, the group charged with organizing San Diego’s efforts to stage the next series of Cup races.

Fay said the decision to appeal reflected poorly on San Diego and its motives.

“San Diego had the opportunity to redeem itself, but they have rejected it, hiding financial interests behind claims of acting for the good of the Cup,” Fay said in a statement released by his Auckland office. “The world will condemn San Diego for being poor sports and now bad losers.”

Mark Smith, one of the lawyers representing the San Diego Yacht Club, said the club plans to proceed quickly to file its appeal. But he said that, although he will ask that the case be heard as soon as possible, he doubts a hearing can be scheduled before September and that a decision could take months.

Smith said the appeal will be filed soon after New York Supreme Court Judge Carmen Ciparick signs an order certifying her decision of last Tuesday that the Cup should be awarded to Fay and his Auckland-based Mercury Bay Boating Club.

30 Days to File Appeal

Smith said that order could come as early as Wednesday, and that the SDYC would then have 30 days to file its appeal with the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court. The New York State Supreme Court is the arbitrator of the Deed of Gift.

“But we don’t plan to use the 30 days,” Smith said. “We hope to push this along.”

Smith said he will ask the court to allow the SDYC, the Cup’s trustee, to retain possession of the Cup until the appeal is decided.

“We don’t want someone showing up at the gates of the yacht club with a television crew, saying, ‘Hand it over. Hand it over,’ ” Smith said.

Smith said he will argue that Ciparick’s decision was inconsistent with her earlier rulings in the case; that her reading of the Deed of Gift, the 102-year-old set of rules that govern the Cup, was too broad; and that she went beyond the intent of its author in her ruling about the “fairness” of the race.

“She made up rules that aren’t there,” Smith said.

Ciparick ruled that, by racing a catamaran against New Zealand’s monohull last September, the SDYC created “a gross mismatch” not in accordance with the “friendly competition between foreign countries” intended by the author of the Deed of Gift.

George L. Tompkins Jr., the lawyer representing Fay, said he was surprised that SDYC decided to appeal, but that he would have no objection to the appeal proceeding as rapidly as possible.

“Their decision doesn’t mean a great deal to me because their chances of having Judge Ciparick overruled on appeal are next to nil,” Tompkins said by telephone from his New York office. “I don’t see any validity in their challenge.”

Tompkins also said he would oppose any attempt to prevent Fay’s group from taking possession of the Cup as soon as possible.

“They accepted the gamble of racing with a catamaran and they lost,” Tompkins said. “Now, in the interest of the Cup and the other (international) challengers, they should get on with it.”

Future of Race in Doubt

The continuing legal challenges have left the future of the America’s Cup race in doubt. Until the decision awarding the Cup to Fay’s group, San Diego officials had planned to hold races starting in May, 1991, off the San Diego coast. Fay’s group said that, if it holds the Cup, races will begin in April, 1991, in waters off Auckland. The decision to appeal puts both of those plans on hold.

The appeal is the latest step in a legal fight that began in August, 1987, when Fay filed suit after the SDYC rejected his challenge to race for the Cup in a 132-foot monohull. Ciparick ruled that challenge valid in November, 1987, and the SDYC countered with plans to race in a 60-foot catamaran, a lighter and presumably faster boat than Fay’s monohull.

Fay’s group argued that the race would be a rout. But Ciparick ruled in July that the parties should race and she would decide on any protests afterward.

The catamaran, skippered by Dennis Conner, defeated the New Zealanders by a wide margin in the first two races of a best-of-three series contested off Point Loma. Fay went back to Ciparick, who ruled in his favor last Tuesday.