SAILING / RICH ROBERTS : The Midwinters Are Back and Bigger Than Ever

More than 1,000 sailboats are expected to compete this weekend in the world’s largest sailing event--the Southern California Yachting Assn.'s 62nd Midwinters, and hardly anything will stop them.

Local sailing pioneer Harry Bourgeois recalled that in the late 1920s, the Los Angeles Yacht Club ran the first events for a few boats outside the L.A. breakwater, “at the bend.” Now, 23 clubs from San Diego to Santa Barbara will play host to 172 classes, including, for the first time, fleets of “one-meter” radio-controlled boats.

In late 1941, some paid entries for the ’42 event were already in, and organizers were anticipating a banner event.

“Then (Pearl Harbor) got bombed by the Japanese,” recalled longtime SCYA leader Ed Gregory. “They never did hold the race, but everybody got a certificate that they had contributed.”


Last year, the British Petroleum oil spill closed Newport Harbor and wiped out that venue for the weekend, plus Long Beach for the second day, Sunday, as the slick crept north. But the Midwinters keep coming back, stronger than ever.

Catamarans joined the competition two years ago, and a cruiser navigation fleet, run by the Seal Beach YC, and sailboards were added last year.

“It’s already the largest regatta in the world,” SCYA Commodore George Hively said. “I don’t know what else we could add, unless it’s canoes and rowboats.”

The radio-controlled one-meters--so called because of their standard length--will be run in Long Beach at El Dorado Park Lake, in Irvine at Mason Park, in San Diego at Vacation Village on Mission Bay and in Scottsdale, Ariz., with about 30 boats at each site. The association has about 600 members.


“I would like those boats not to be called models ,” said Swede Johnson, who is coordinating the fleets. “They’re high-tech racing yachts.”

The boats have several advantages over conventional boats. They are not only less expensive, they don’t have to be kept in a high-priced slip, and one never needs to worry whether the bottom is clean. On the other hand, you can’t go to Catalina on one.

Both America’s Cup defense syndicates were concerned about information presented in this space last week regarding their financial conditions. The point was that the America’s Cup Organizing Committee is ready with a plan to help Dennis Conner, if necessary.

Jerry La Dow of Team Dennis Conner responded that Conner will compete, with or without such help. “Even if we don’t get another sponsor, we’re going to have the (first) boat built,” La Dow said. “Even with a one-boat campaign, we are going to be there.”


The boat is scheduled to be completed next month at Bristol, R.I., in time for the International America’s Cup Class world championships--a prelude to 1992--this May.

Also, Gary Jobson of Bill Koch’s America-3 team said they are $7.5 million short of their $30-million budget for a three-boat program.

“If we don’t get it all, we’ll drop back,” Jobson said. “We’re in great shape for two boats.”

Why wouldn’t Koch, whose worth is listed at $650 million by Forbes magazine, simply write a check? Because it doesn’t fit into the program.


Jobson said the syndicate’s fund-raising schemes after the first $20-million call for soliciting corporations, high-rolling individuals and grass-roots supporters. According to Jobson, 3,100 have donated between $25 and $1,000 each.

And Jobson said Conner may be doing better than suspected. “We’ve been tracking him pretty good,” Jobson said. “We figure he’s up to $13 million.”

Conner told Lois Fecteau of Soundings that he isn’t intimidated by Koch’s bankroll. “We’ve sailed against rich people before,” Conner said. “Alan Bond was rich. The Aga Kahn’s not poor.”

Of course, Alan Bond’s wing-keeled Australia II beat him in ’83, but Conner is right--Bond was rich. Now, the Australian’s financial empire has collapsed.


Sailing Notes

CONGRESSIONAL CUP--The 27th edition of the Long Beach Yacht Club’s match-racing classic had its best-looking field until three dropouts occurred this week. Australia’s Peter Gilmour, the 1989 winner; Paul Cayard, Italy’s America’s Cup skipper, and John Bertrand, an ’84 Olympic silver medalist, withdrew because of conflicts with their commitments to the International 50-Foot circuit. The 50-Foot circuit pays; the Congressional doesn’t. Germany’s Joachim Schumann also withdrew because he couldn’t afford to make the trip. Cayard nominated Tomaso Chieffi, his Il Moro di Venezia syndicate teammate, to take his place. The other three replacements are Peter Isler, who should have been invited back in the first place, off his No. 6 world ranking; Swedish America’s Cup sailor Olle Johannson, ranked eighth, and Canadian Soling champion Ross MacDonald, who is 11th. They will join defending champion and No. 1-ranked Chris Dickson, three-time winner and No. 5 Rod Davis, No. 4 Russell Coutts of New Zealand, No. 12 Marc Bouet of France, Rolex yachtsman of the year Jim Brady and host club entry Steve Steiner.

ULDB 70S--Despite the gun-to-gun victory by Roy Disney’s new Pyewacket in its maiden Marina del Rey-to-Puerto Vallarta race last week, rivals aren’t ready to concede the season championship. “Pyewacket is quick, no question, and she’s higher tech than any other boat,” said Tom Leweck, the sled association’s executive director, “but she didn’t dominate that much.” Pyewacket, skippered by 1984 Olympic gold medalist and ’90 Congressional Cup finalist Robbie Haines, beat Mitch Rouse’s Taxi Dancer by only 42 1/2 minutes and John DeLaura’s Silver Bullet by 51 minutes, after all three were becalmed while entering the bay together. “Any one of us could have won,” Rouse said. “They got the (wind) shift first and did it.” The sleds’ next event is the new San Diego Sprint race April 6.

HONORS--Jim Brady, 27, of Annapolis, Md., and Courtenay Becker, 25, of Rye, N.Y., are winners of the 1990 Rolex yachtsman and yachtswoman of the year awards. Brady won the J-24 and J-22 world championships. Becker placed first in eight major international events in the Europe dinghy, a new Olympic class. Each is campaigning for the ’92 Olympics in Spain. Brady also won the Ficker Cup to qualify for next month’s Congressional Cup. . . . The Yacht Racing Union of Southern California--not to be confused with the SCYA--distributed yachting excellence awards to Brian Ledbetter (male), J.J. Isler (female) and David Houser (youth) for sailing, and to ACOC Executive Director Tom Ehman and Santana magazine publishers David Poe and Kitty James for service.


NOTEWORTHY--ESPN’s second monthly America’s Cup special will be repeated next Friday at 6:30 p.m. . . . Pyewacket was among 27 boats filing early, reduced-fee entries for the biennial Transpac race. After Jan. 31, the fee went from $600 to $750. . . . Mike Plant of Jamestown, R.I., was fifth overall and the leading American as 18 boats departed Sydney Feb. 3 for the third leg of the 27,000-mile Duracell (single-handed) Globe Challenge to Punta del Este, Uruguay. The leader is South Africa’s John Martin. Four boats have dropped out. Three others will rejoin the race after completing repairs in Sydney.