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America’s Cup Redux : The 29th Sailing Extravaganza Returns to Waters Off San Diego With Many Familiar Faces, Plus the Event’s First All-Female Crew

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They’re back.

They thrilled you via satellite in ’87, tried your patience in ’88 and slammed doors in your faces in ’92, all the while spending enough money to keep Orange County afloat.

Now they’re about to take their high tech to the high seas again in the the 29th edition of the America’s Cup, a 143-year-old sailing tradition.

The Citizen Cup trials for the three teams competing for the right to defend the Cup for the San Diego Yacht Club will start Thursday a few miles off Point Loma, adjacent to a similar windward- leeward course where the seven challenger hopefuls will start their Louis Vuitton Cup trials on Saturday.

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It is all match racing--one on one--with the survivors from each side meeting in the best-of-nine Cup Match starting May 6.

Several of the faces are familiar, including Dennis Conner and his 1983 Australian nemesis, John Bertrand. But the America’s Cup ’95 organizers hired by the San Diego Yacht Club have tried to give the event a fresh, friendlier facade than the legal wrangling that followed the joy of Conner’s comeback at Fremantle in 1987 and the paranoid attitudes that alienated the competitors from the public and one another in 1992.

Since crowds estimated at 10,000 and more turned out along the shore to watch races inside San Diego Bay during the International America’s Cup Class World Championship in November, some of the teams have been scrambling to spread welcome mats at their compounds, where security guards and maximum security fences stood before.

None of the races will be in the bay--it’s too narrow for these swift boats to execute their tactical tricks--but rides on large spectator boats will be available for a fee, and closed-circuit TV of at least the challengers’ races may be available at public locations.

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There will be no live broadcast TV in the United States until ESPN begins coverage of the defender and challenger finals April 12. By then, all but four of the teams will be gone.

Among the defenders, that figures to be America3 , the first all-female crew to sail the event.

The team evolved from Bill Koch’s indecision to return after spending about $68 million in ’92 to beat back Conner, then beat Il Moro di Venezia in the Cup Match. The Italian powerhouse was generated by the late Raul Gardini, who later committed suicide in the Italian government financial scandals. His skipper, the American Paul Cayard, now sails with Conner.

Koch finally chose to return but with an inspired compromise: an all-female crew that would allow him to remain a player without spending as much of his time and money.

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Whether the women would be no more than a footnote in Cup history or Koch would give them a chance to win was another matter.

He withheld that decision until October, when he saw that several months of training six days a week under Coach Kimo Worthington had produced world-class sailors.

Their reward: a new boat. Unfortunately for them, it won’t arrive until February after the first t trial rounds, which will test the women’s confidence as they sail the old Americac,6 3--the ’92 winner--against the new boats already launched by Conner and the other defense team, PACT 95.

The latter’s boat, Young America, was damaged when gusting winds in Wednesday night’s storm blew the fabric-and-framework roof of the sail loft against the boat, which was in its cradle. The boat fell into a cargo container, but it is unlikely anyone will be able to tell the difference when PACT sails its first race Friday against Conner, who will open the trials against the women on Thursday.

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Young America was christened Saturday, with Elizabeth Gosnell breaking the traditional bottle of champagne over the damaged bow of the boat as the crew and more than 800 supporters cheered.

The boat didn’t suffer structural damage, but holes were punched in the hull. The damage was estimated at between $600,000 and $800,000. Skipper Kevin Mahaney said the yacht will be ready to take on Conner Friday.

Even as the christening ceremonies were underway, a repair crew was hard at work on the inside of the hull--out of sight of the festivities.

Young America has a mural of a mermaid painted on its hull, and pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, who designed the work, will be on hand to assist with the touch-up when the cutting, patching and sanding is completed.

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If it weren’t for their various paint jobs, sponsors and colorful logos, the ’95 models of the America’s Cup class boats would be indistinguishable to the casual observer. As Koch’s America3 evolved from the four boats he built for ’92 into a longer, narrower craft than its peers, all of the new ones are being built even longer--80 to 85 feet--and skinnier until it seems the next generation will be nothing but razor blades, somehow supporting 110-foot masts and enough sail area to blanket Rhode Island.

Until the racing starts, Bertrand’s oneAustralia rates as the fastest off its runaway performance in the IACC Worlds--granted, against a bunch of ‘92s and Nippon’s new boat that was struggling to come back from losing its mast three days before the event.

Bertrand was the skipper of Alan Bond’s Australia II that wrested the Cup from the New York Yacht Club and Conner in 1983. He plans to sail now as tactician, with Rod Davis the primary helmsman. Davis, a native of San Diego who is raising a family in New Zealand, sailed New Zealand’s ill-fated boat into the bowsprit issue in ’92 after steering the Newport Harbor Yacht Club’s 12-Meter Eagle in ’86-87.


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