AMERICA'S CUP UPDATE : NOTEBOOK : Cup Gala's Social Director Steers Event Through Rough Water

You have 2,600 people arriving for a dinner party and nobody knows where they're supposed to sit.

"A chairman's worst nightmare," Jane Fetter said.

Fetter headed the 90-woman committee that planned and organized Thursday night's dressy America's Cup Ball at the San Diego Convention Center, the social event of America's Cup XXVIII. Every last detail was covered until 4 p.m., when a computer crashed, taking the seating plan with it.

Somehow, Fetter and her staff got it all straightened out and, with only a few minor skirmishes, people found random tables with a minimum of delay.

At $175 a person, the event was sold out May 1. Fetter estimated that 300 were turned away. Guests entered through a military honor guard with upraised sabres and danced to Peter Duchin's orchestra from New York.

Fetter said, "I tried to walk up to each table and tell them I hoped they would cope. Our guests made a major effort to show a generosity of spirit."

In fact, Fetter said, at a table for Italians "I think they said, 'We're having a wonderful time, and when we win the Cup we want you to come and chair the ball in Venice. Every time we try to do something like this everything goes wrong.' "

With today's race on ABC instead of ESPN, Frank Gifford and Jack Whittaker will join the usual broadcast team of Jim Kelly, Gary Jobson and Peter Isler.

Sailing is believed to be somewhat outside the Gifford and Whittaker area of expertise.

"But by the end of the day," Kelly said, "they'll know the difference between port and starboard. And if they stay for Sunday, we'll teach 'em the difference between a jibe-set and a bear-away set."

They'll be taking notes.

If America 3 pitwoman Dawn Riley sails in a Cup match race, she'll be the first woman to do so since 1937 and probably the first ever in a physically active, hands-on crew position.

Other women have sailed in trials races--most recently, Dory Vogel as navigator on Stars & Stripes at Fremantle in 1986, and Dennis Conner's daughter Shanna as the idle 17th crew in Stars & Stripes' final race last week. But only seven have sailed in the final match.

According to Cup historian/photographer Stanley Rosenfeld, two were American and five were British. The first was Mrs. William Henn, wife of the challenger Galatea owner, in 1886. They lived on the boat, with Persian carpets and a pet monkey, who was probably the 17th man.

In 1893 Lord Dunraven took his daughter Lady Rachel Windham-Quin along on the challenger Valkyrie II, and in '95 he took Lady Rachel and his other daughter, Lady Eileen, on Valkyrie III.

That same year Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin, wife of the syndicate head, sailed on the defender Defender. Four years later she returned aboard Columbia.

As the era of the J-boats dawned, Mrs. William P. Burton, wife of the skipper, rode along on Sir Thomas Lipton's Shamrock IV, as did Mrs. T.O.M. Sopwith aboard her husband's Endeavour in '34 and '37.

Also in '37, Gertrude Vanderbilt is believed to have been the timekeeper on husband Harold's Ranger.

None of the women seemed to have had anything serious to do on the boats.

"In those days," Rosenfeld said, "there was as essentially professional crew and an amateur afterguard, and the afterguard did nothing but afterguarding. Gertrude probably did something useful."

That did not include serving tea.

"They had stewards on board to do that," Rosenfeld said.

Informed of her possible foremothers, Riley said, "The history is interesting . . . but I just want to sail."

Bill Koch has switched tacks after a making a crack earlier about Il Moro di Venezia's American skipper, Paul Cayard, sailing on "an Italian green card."

The last few days Koch has been so nice to the Italians that he sounds as if he's running for office there.

At Friday's press conference, Koch said in Cayard's presence, "I have nothing against professional sailors. He's also a fine human being.

"Paul, you've gotta understand, (Il Moro chief) Raul (Gardini) called me a clown so I've gotta needle him back."

America 3 helmsman Buddy Melges, 62, appears as slim and fit as sailors half his age.

"The association with Bill Koch and his striving for physical fitness has helped me," Melges said.

The Cubens have fitness personnel and a training room worthy of an NFL team.

"The last month and a half I've lost 16 pounds and increased muscle content and have a fat content down to about 11.5, which is pretty good for a guy my age," Melges said. "I think it's sharpened me up."

Koch said Dennis Conner has been helping his effort this week, not only by having his crew sail Stars & Stripes as a trial boat Friday but in offering advice and the use of sails.

"We've had a lot of oral advice from Dennis' crew," Koch said. "They've pointed out where they thought we were weak and what we could do to counteract our weaknesses.

"They've let us test a number of their sails. We've narrowed it down to just a few we could use. We'd have to take the advertising off them."

When Mayor Maureen O'Connor's office declined to participate in a wager with her counterpart in Venice, XTRA (690 AM) radio stepped in and named Dan (Dan the Fan) Wilkins as acting mayor of San Diego.

Venice Mayor Ugo Bergamo placed a bushel of olives on the betting table and pledged to sing the American national anthem live on the radio if the Italians lost, an interesting prospect considering his command of the English language. Bergamo also said he would fly an American flag and a Mighty 690 flag over the mayor's office for a week.

Dan the Fan and Steve Mason said in the event America 3 lost to Il Moro, they would sing the Italian national anthem on the radio and fly an Italian flag in front of their station for a week. They countered olives with a crate of avocados, according to radio station spokesman Chris Visser.

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