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SAILING / RICH ROBERTS : Dickson Is Not Winning Anybody Over

Japan’s Nippon Challenge, anewcomer, became a serious contender for the America’s Cup earlier this year by hiring New Zealand’s Chris Dickson to sail its boat at San Diego in 1992. Now, there are serious questions as to whether traditional Japanese decorum can survive another year and a half of the impetuous Kiwi.

There might be no better sailor. Dickson, who won the Congressional Cup at Long Beach last March, was the top-ranked skipper going into the Mazda World Match-Racing Championships at home in Auckland last month.

But the sailing did not go well for Dickson at Auckland. First, there was his former boss, Michael Fay, needling him through the media that he was a turncoat.

“For the next Cup series,” said Fay, who employed Dickson at Fremantle, Australia, in 1986-87, “he is not a Kiwi but a Japanese.”

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Then Dickson lost five of nine races in the round-robin and failed to reach the semifinals. Worse, his John McEnroe-type act turned off observers.

When the on-the-water judges called a foul on him in one race, Dickson yelled back, waved a red protest flag at the judges’ boat, then did his compulsory 270-degree penalty turn--and rammed the judges’ boat. Then he ripped out the radio used by an on-board officiating aide and threw it overboard.

“That’s what America’s Cup pressure can do to you,” said a rival skipper, Peter Isler of San Diego.

The local newspapers raked their former national hero as “Super Brat,” as Fay tried to keep a straight face while saying things such as, “We would have liked Chris Dickson to have been part of our New Zealand Challenge.”

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Fay is in a cooperative effort with the other Japanese challenge from Masakazu Kobayashi’s Bengal Bay Boating Club. Some of his own sailors, including American Rod Davis, are working with Bengal Bay through May’s International America’s Cup Class World Championships at San Diego. The teams’ first two boats are currently bound for California.

Australian Peter Gilmour won the world match-racing title by defeating Davis in two consecutive races. He had a tougher time with Isler, who was tied with Davis at 8-1 after the round-robin.

In the semifinals, Isler and Gilmour split their first two races, then Isler overtook Gilmour on the final, upwind leg of the deciding race for an apparent photo-finish victory.

“For about a minute, nobody knew who won,” Isler said.

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After an instant replay of videotapes, the judges ruled Gilmour the winner by two seconds, sending him into the finals.

Skipper Pete Melvin and crew Steve Rosenberg of Long Beach are in Melbourne, Australia, tuning their C Class catamaran, “Freedom’s Wing,” for the best-of-seven semifinals of the Little America’s Cup against France’s tilt-wing boat, “Otip,” starting Dec. 16.

The Americans represent the Chula Vista Yacht Club. The semifinal-round winner will meet the Australian defender, “The Edge II,” starting Jan. 12.

Because there is no minimum weight restriction, the 25-foot boats with their hard sails tend to be fragile in construction. Virtually every competition since the series started in 1960 has been settled by breakdowns. Most recently, two years ago, a boat sponsored by the Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club broke apart minutes before the first race when caught by a helicopter’s downdraft in choppy seas.

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Gino Morelli, who helped build the Stars & Stripes catamarans in ’88, tried to build in durability without using too much beef, but up until a week before they left, Rosenberg said, “We couldn’t go out for 10 minutes without breaking something.”

They think they solved their problems during the last week of tuning on San Diego Bay.

Melvin, an ’88 Olympian, and Rosenberg won the ProSail series for Hobie 21s last year but have limited experience with hard-sail rigs. They will have had a couple of weeks’ additional practice on McCrae Bay, before the French arrive two days before the event.

“They’re either super-confident or so unconfident that they don’t want to waste their time and money,” Rosenberg said. “We might surprise everybody.”

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Sailing Notes

OFFSHORE--Transpacific Race Committee Chairman Lew Comyns of the Long Beach Yacht Club is accepting entries for the 1991 renewal of the West Coast’s premier offshore event. Entries are restricted to IOR and IMS boats measuring a minimum of 30.5 feet at the waterline. The fee is $600 before Jan. 31, $750 after. So the smaller, slower boats don’t miss the award luaus and such, there will be two starts for the first time--on Thursday, June 27, and Saturday, June 29. . . . Mike Plant, America’s top hope in the BOC Challenge singlehanded race around the world, moved from fifth to third place after incurring damage when rammed by South Africa’s Bertie Reed at the start of the second leg from Cape Town, South Africa. Rather than return to port for repairs, Plant continued, but reported he was pumping 50 gallons of water an hour in rough seas. Plant was 41 hours behind winner Christophe Auguin of France. The first boats are expected to reach Sydney, Australia, about Dec. 20.

NOTEWORTHY--At Balboa Yacht Club, John Cazier won USYRU’s One-Design Leadership award for his work with Schock 35s, and Peter Huston was elected vice president of the U.S. Pro Sailing Assn. . . . Bill Lynn, a past president of the U.S. Yacht Racing Union and one of the sport’s most effective administrators, died while on vacation in the Bahamas. He was chairman of the International Yacht Racing Union’s international classes committee, the USYRU representative to the U.S. Olympic Committee and president of the U.S. Sailing Foundation. He also was instrumental in organizing the U.S. Professional Sailing Assn. under USYRU.


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