It Was Smooth Sailing at Yachting Gala

As speedily as a sloop slicing through the sapphire sea, the IACC World Championship Ball raced through Tidelands Park and left a wake that, if all goes as planned, will wash over San Diego as a yearlong series of parties leading up to the America's Cup races in May, 1992.

If the May 8 event--aptly subtitled "The World Sets Sail for San Diego" and given in honor of the nations and teams participating in the IACC championship races that ended Saturday--set the stage for next year, it did so with a lavishness not seen since the Hotel del Coronado's memorable Centennial celebration in 1988.

The scale of the evening was immense, the list of details exhausting, and some of the combinations of players among the guest list of 1,200 just plain fun. Stars & Stripes skipper Dennis Conner and New Zealand syndicate chairman Sir Michael Fay, the leading bad boys of international yacht racing, met again on neutral dry ground and looked ready for games at sea.

Mayor Maureen O'Connor, wearing a claret gown and an unquenchable grin, made a splashier presence than usual on a day that, for her, started with the California Public Utilities Commission's nixing of the proposed Southern California Edison-SDG&E; merger. SDG&E; Chairman Tom Page also made the scene and smiled from time to time. Despite the anguished queries of one Australian guest who repeatedly asked, "Where are the movie stars?" hot couple Jane Fonda and Ted Turner failed to show, but the rumor mill that predicted their eventual presence churned nearly to the end of the evening.

Yachting enthusiast and "most trusted man in America" Walter Cronkite took on the master of ceremonies duties and joined a roster of notables that included, among others, former Premier of France and current Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac; Australian racing whiz Sir James Hardie; fellow Aussie Dr. Stan Reid, of Perth, chairman of the Challenger of Record Committee; San Diego Yacht Club Commodore H.P. (Sandy) Purdon; Defenders Committee Chairman Gene Trepte, and America's Cup Organizing Committee President Malin Burnham.

Despite the uncounted shoals that could wreck a party of this size, the waters parted placidly for gala planner Linda Packer Nicholas, who said the event had been "her life" since the week after she gave birth in October. Packer shared a table with Jane Fetter, mother of yachtswoman J.J. Fetter Isler and already-at-work chairwoman of the America's Cup Ball, to be given May 7. Waving at the details inside a dinner tent sufficiently capacious to camouflage a football field, Fetter said of her plans for next year, "I'm nervous."

The World Championship Ball actually required three ivory tents, the first of which sheltered the block-long red carpet that led from the valet stand (that the parking actually was supervised by Ace Parking Vice President Reint Reinders gives some clue to the perceived importance of this event). This particular tent, decorated with topiary trees banded in the colors of the 11 countries set to sail in the America's Cup, ultimately emptied into a grassy, open space where couples garbed in the competitors' traditional native dress adopted frozen poses on pedestals.

Folk performers from the 11 nations--ranging from Yugoslavian dancers to a kimono-ed Japanese bearing a branch of cherry blossoms to a raucous Aussie Outback singing group--performed here and under a giant, semi-open, wing-sailed tent in which some of caterer Tony Kopas' crew of 186 prepared more than two dozen varieties of hors d'oeuvres. Just seeing it all required several round trips and left many, both locals and visitors, wide-eyed.

Prominent on the promenade were crew members of the nine teams registered for the IACC World Championship, distinguishable from the black-tie crowd by their nautical dress uniforms.

The primary action took place under the cavernous main tent, to which guests finally retreated after a barrage of fireworks over the bay announced the dinner hour. New York society bandleader Peter Duchin and his orchestra occupied the giant stage and played "Puttin' on the Ritz" (surely, the party's anthem?) while six roof-high columns of water bubbled merrily at their backs.

The dinner of salmon Napoleon, roasted tenderloin of beef and "America's Cup au Chocolat " (preparation of the 1,200 dark chocolate hulls set with white chocolate sails, drifting on sea-blue pools of custard sauce, required 487 pounds of Belgian chocolate) led up to Cronkite's presentation of the World Championship skippers.

While the object of desire, the America's Cup itself, glittered in front of the podium, the captains from the Ville de Paris, Il Moro de Venezia, Nippon, New Zealand, Spain '92 Quinto Centenario (this team claims a direct descendant of Christopher Colombus), America-3 and Stars & Stripes syndicates each carried off a large glass reproduction of an IACC boat.

The Coronado Schools Foundation, chosen to benefit from the ball, carried off a check for $10,000. And later, after Cronkite had spelled out that the evening inaugurated "what is being called 'The year of the Cup,' " the band played on.

SAN DIEGO--Former Congressman Clair Burgener cleverly stitched two themes into a piece of whole cloth at the 14th annual San Diego State University Alumni Awards Gala, given Saturday in the Champagne Ballroom at the Sheraton Harbor Island.

After noting the party's official title and theme, "Weaving Campus and Community Together," master of ceremonies Burgener noted, "We're here not just to honor people, but to raise discretionary funds, and we've never needed funds like we do right now."

Burgener made his appeal to a crowd of 584--a record for the annual event--that included quite a number of notable grads and not a few politicians, whom, in true political fashion, Burgener introduced one by one, allowing each to take a little bow. Among this group were County Supervisor Susan Golding, who attended with her father, former SDSU President Brage Golding; Supervisor George Bailey; State Board of Equalization member Ernie Dronenburg, and state Sen. Lucy Killea.

The event opened with a silent auction and continued during dinner with a live auction--the prime offering was a cocker spaniel pup--but centered on the presentation of "Monty" statuettes to Alumnus of the Year and lifelong sports enthusiast Bob Breitbard, and to nine distinguished alumni of the university's seven colleges and Imperial Valley campus.

In this group were Irma Castro, coordinator of the New Beginnings social services program; banker James S. Brown; high school teacher Janis Gabay; engineer and Escondido Mayor Jerry Harmon; health care executive Lucy Meyer Cunningham; Claudine Duff, director of housing for the Imperial Valley Housing Authority; Suzy's Zoo President Suzy Spafford, and scientist-spouses James Greenwood and Sydney Maureen Harvey. For the first time in the history of the gala, a special presentation of a Monty to a non-alumnus was made to Al Johnson, retiring vice president for academic affairs.

Gala chair Tracy Stickel decorated the room in Aztec red and black for a crowd that included university President Tom Day and his wife, Ann; Yvonne and Dan Larsen; outgoing SDSU Alumni & Associates President Jim Kuhn, and his successor, Walter Turner; Lynn Stedd and Jack White; Marsha and Frank Aronoff; Betty and Jim Brayshay; Gwen and Art Flaming; Nicki and Ben Clay; Evelyn and Cecil Steppe, and Susan and Ray Blair.

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