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Ever since the Mercury Bay Boating Club, in the person of Auckland financier Michael Fay, challenged the San Diego Yacht Club (SDYC) in 1987 to what was supposed to be an America's Cup match but turned out to be a spitting contest, the combatants and their lawyers have engaged in a wearisome tacking duel. Last week, after 2� years of litigation, they finally crossed the finish line.
By a 5-2 vote, the State of New York Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court ruling that San Diego's September 1988 Cup defense in the 60-foot catamaran Stars & Stripes against Fay's 133-foot monohull challenger New Zealand was legal, even though the boats were of such radically different designs that the event was a mismatch. Stars & Stripes, skippered by Dennis Conner, routed New Zealand 2-0, winning the first race by 2� miles and the second by more than four miles.
The Cup, which has been locked in a New York bank vault pending the court's decision, will now be returned to the SDYC. And in May 1992, San Diego will get to host the kind of America's Cup extravaganza it had in mind before Fay made his unexpected challenge. So far, 14 challengers from 11 nations have signed on for the '92 trials, and seven more have expressed interest. As many as 10 U.S. syndicates, including one led by Conner, might compete for the right to defend the Cup.
Out of the America's Cup rancor has emerged a document that may prevent such unseemly circuses in the future. The San Diego Protocol, which was signed by current and former Cup trustees after the 1988 races, is essentially an agreement to try to behave civilly from now on and to refer disputes to a panel of trustees instead of to a court of law.
While the protocol is not mischief-proof, it has fostered a spirit of cooperation and the adoption of a new measurement rule for Cup boats. Henceforth the Cup will be contested in International America's Cup Class (IACC) boats, which replace the 12-meter yachts in use from 1958 to '87. The typical IACC boat will be 20% larger and 30% lighter than a Twelve and will carry almost half again as much sail. Says veteran Cup competitor Bruno Troubl� of France, who has sailed in one of the new IACC yachts, "She looks like a big 18-foot skiff, reacts like a dinghy and is much more exciting than we expected her to be."
Despite their rough ride in American waters—legal and otherwise—the Kiwis will try for the Cup again in '92. As Toby Morcom, sheep farmer and Mercury Bay commodore, put it last week, "We are not renowned for backing down."
A GIANT COINCIDENCE
THE TIP IS TAP
SI's Bill Nack, who has correctly picked the winner of the Kentucky Derby four of the past seven years, previews this Saturday's 116th running of the event. Over the winter, when such promising 3-year-old lights as Grand Canyon, Red Ransom and last year's 2-year-old champion, Rhythm, fell like tin soldiers on their way to the spring classics, it appeared that this year's Derby would be a ho-hum affair, with little to recommend it as either a sporting event or a betting enterprise.