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Potential Defenders Cut to Four : America’s Cup: All approved groups have San Diego connections. Five others are excused from official consideration by organizing committee.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The America’s Cup Organizing Committee announced Friday it has endorsed four syndicates, including one that plans to use the Beach Boys in its promotional campaign, and excused five others from consideration to defend the Cup in 1992.

All the groups approved are based in San Diego County and led by members of the host San Diego Yacht Club.

Those approved included a syndicate headed by veteran America’s Cup skipper Dennis Conner and another called Beach Boys America.

The Beach Boys syndicate is headed by real estate developer David Lowry and Beach Boys President Elliott Lott, a neighbor of Lowry’s in Fallbrook. Lowry said the syndicate intends to use a 1991-92 nationwide tour by the singing group to promote its fund-raising campaign.

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Also approved were Isler Sailing International, led by former Conner navigator Peter Isler, and Triumph America Foundation, headed by Larry Klein, the 1989 Rolex yachtsman of the year.

Among the five failing to receive approval were both syndicates that announced plans to include women on their crews: the San Diego-based Betsy Ross group and the Santa Cruz-based U.S. Women’s Defense Syndicate.

Also failing to gain the endorsement were Advance America of Old Bridge, N.J.; the Christina Group of Beverly Farms, Mass., and the Yankee Syndicate of Cleveland.

The decisions was made Thursday night after individual meetings with the defense committee at the San Diego Yacht Club. The absence of any group outside San Diego brought concerns from some leaders of rejected groups that there had been favoritism. None of the syndicates that failed to gain approval had principals who were SDYC members.

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“It’s highly questionable,” said Steve Gronka, head of Advance America.

But Tom Ehman, ACOC general manager, said the decision was not based on ties to San Diego and that the dismissed groups had failed to meet requirements set in a meeting in San Diego three weeks ago. These included written evidence of the ability to raise $6 million in sponsorship money by the end of the year, a $150,000 performance bond and the ability to fulfill the terms of the defense plan.

“It so simple and clear cut,” Ehman said. “The four groups approved had shown momentum even in the three weeks since we had last seen them in signing up new talent and raising significant money. The other five groups had not made any progress. Some of them posted the bond, but the true test was whether they have the financial wherewithal and the organization in place, and none of them really qualified on those.”

He said that while none of the approved syndicates are based outside of San Diego, most have involvement from other areas of the country.

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The defense committee also established two additional requirements for groups to remain viable defense syndicates. Each must provide $50,000 by Aug. 1 to the Partnership for America’s Cup Technology, the pooled U.S. design research effort. Another $50,000 contribution to PACT will be required by Oct. 1, along with signed contracts or pledges from sponsors and contributors totaling $6 million.

Those groups not endorsed will be eliminated from future ACOC meetings, mailings and news releases. But Ehman said the defense committee reserved the right to reconsider these groups at a later date.

Nancy Stark, administrative director of the Yankee Syndicate, said that group would continue to seek approval. She said it was “dissatisfied by the outcome” and was rejected despite meeting the committee requirements. But Tom Mitchell, ACOC vice president for operations, said the Yankee group fell short because it failed to satisfy the committee over whether it could carry out the SDYC defense plan.

Advance America’s Gronka said that although the failure to receive ACOC approval could hurt fund-raising efforts, especially with potential corporate donors, he also would press forward. “We think these decisions should be made in the corporate marketplace,” Gronka said. “We don’t feel anyone should be eliminated now. Let the groups go into the marketplace and let corporate America make the decision about which groups are viable.”

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Charles Ellery, head of the U.S. Women’s Defense Syndicate, said the ACOC made a mistake in eliminating his group, which plans to use an all-women’s crew.

“An all-women’s crew could be a first-time marketing bonanza,” Ellery said.

He, too, said his group would continue.

“The only way we should be dismissed from the competition is if we’re beaten on the water,” Ellery said.

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But Ehman said the question of female participation in crews also was not a factor.

“What we want to have is the strongest group to win the Cup,” Ehman said. “Anyone who says we have any other consideration is just a lot of baloney.”

Ehman said this decision had to be made now to keep corporate funds from being diluted among too many syndicates and that time was becoming a factor.

Trials to select a boat to defend the America’s Cup are scheduled to begin in San Diego in January, 1992. The winner of that competition will meet a foreign challenger in a best-of-seven series in May, 1992. A record 21 syndicates from 15 countries have announced they intend to challenge for the Cup.

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“I am a lot happier about our chances for a successful defense than when we started (Thursday),” Ehman said. “Our chances of defending were like 30-70 before; now they’re more like 40-60. We’re still the underdog, but we’re closing.”

Gronka seemed to agree with the assessment. While explaining that Advance America, if unsuccessful this time, would continue to work toward the 1995 America’s Cup, he said: “But the way it looks now, that could be in Italy or Japan.”

THE CHOSEN FOUR

Name: Beach Boys America.

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Skipper: John Bertrand, Newport Beach.

Design: John Reichel, Jim Pugh and Doug Peterson, San Diego.

Comment: Headed by David Lowry, a Fallbrook real estate developer, the syndicate plans to use the Beach Boys as the promotional hook for its effort. Plans are for a nationwide tour to raise funds and give exposure to corporate sponsors. Bertrand was the 1989 Maxiboat Worlds winner, tactician on New York Yacht Club’s 1987 America II campaign and 1984 Olympic silver medalist in Finn Class.

Name: Isler Sailing International

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Skipper: Peter Isler, San Diego.

Design: Bruce Nelson, San Diego.

Comment: Isler was navigator on Dennis Conner’s two most recent winning America’s Cup campaigns; Nelson worked on the design team for those two boats. Isler has been active in recent months, sailing exhibition races against America’s Cup teams from Denmark and New Zealand and has a series planned against a Soviet team in October. The group has announced Hewlett-Packard as its first major corporate sponsor.

Name: Team Dennis Conner.

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Skipper: Dennis Conner, San Diego.

Design: David Pedrick, Newport, R.I.

Comment: The most experienced group is led by Conner, a veteran of five previous America’s Cup campaigns and winning skipper on 1980, 1987 and 1988 efforts. It announced its first sponsorship earlier this week--a $3-million deal with the Cadillac--and further corporate announcements are expected this summer. The group has lost some key players to other syndicates but apparently retained several members of the core group, including tactician Tom Widden.

Name: Triumph America Foundation.

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Skipper: Larry Klein, San Diego.

Design: Heiner Meldner, San Francisco.

Comment: Klein is a newcomer to the America’s Cup but not to international racing. He was named the 1989 Rolex yachtsman of the year after winning the E-22 and J-24 world titles. Meldner, who this week was named head of the syndicate’s technical team, was involved in the design of bow-rudder design used on USA, which was sailed by the late Tom Blackaller in the 1987 Cup trials.


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