The America's Cup nightmare is over at last. Gone, though not entirely forgotten, is the embarrassment of the 1988 mismatch between Dennis Conner's catamaran and Michael Fay's New Zealand monohull, and 2� years of courtroom battles. In 1992, America's Cup XXVIII will be contested off San Diego's Point Loma in bigger and better boats, on a new racecourse designed to enhance TV spectating, and with a record number of challenging countries.
After the last Cup, the heavy and antiquated 12-meter boats used in races from 1958 to '87 were abandoned in favor of the new International America's Cup Class (IACC).
"The Cup boats are very powerful, light, responsive boats that are going to be semi-out of control a lot of the time," says David Pedrick, an America's Cup design veteran who has signed on with Team Dennis Conner for 1992. "They're going to be extremely exciting for San Diego's moderate breezes. They'd be a disaster in [the heavier winds of] Fremantle. Sailing these boats will be a bit like racing Ferraris with bald tires."
An IACC boat, which takes about six months to build, can cost as much as $2.5 million. At 75 feet it is 10 feet longer than the average 12-meter, and it is 30% lighter. Each yacht will have 16 crew members instead of 11.
"They're overpowered, with a lot of sail area," says Bill Trenkle, a four-Cup veteran and a headsail trimmer for Conner. "They're going to be a lot faster."
Compared with a 12-meter, the IACC, in a moderate breeze, is roughly two knots faster upwind and as much as six knots faster downwind. All this—greater length, lighter weight, larger sail area—adds up to speed, the threat of mishaps on the racecourse—and higher TV ratings. Furthermore, because a new design should be an equalizer, competition ought to be tighter in '92 than it has been for years.
Television was very much on the minds of the course designers. The new 23-mile Cup course has more twists and turns than Le Mans, and includes a downwind finish, which makes it easier for a trailing boat to catch up. ESPN recently announced plans to broadcast more on-the-water hours than ever before. "More onboard cameras and the new course will help bring the Cup out of the Stone Age," says Trenkle.
As dawn breaks on this brave new era, the U.S. finds itself, at least for the moment, in the unsettling position of underdog. "It was hard to plan our program—and almost impossible to do the necessary fundraising—not knowing whether we were going to be a defender or challenger," says Trenkle, who is also operations manager for Team Dennis Conner.
Until Fay exhausted his legal options in trying to have Conner's catamaran victory overturned, no one knew if the next races would be in San Diego or 6,496 miles to the southwest, in Auckland. Corporate America was reluctant to sign on until the verdict was in. Meanwhile, all the foreign challenger syndicates except New Zealand were sure of an away game, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit. They could move from plan to action while the potential Cup defenders were forced to sit and wait.
Money finally started flowing on April 24, when the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the '92 regatta would indeed be held in San Diego. Team Dennis Conner took the early lead among the defenders, raising $3 million apiece from Pepsi and Cadillac. But then, on Oct. 4, after weeks of rumors, multimillionaire Bill Koch announced that he was joining the Cup fray.