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Frankly, practically anything is more cost-effective than building a multimillion-dollar IACC yacht. The new boats—longer, lighter, with 40% more sail area than the 12-meters—were designed for San Diego's usually light breezes and tend to break up in anything stronger. The Pre-Worlds, a three-race warmup for the main event held on May 1 and 2, was mostly a slapstick chase around the course with foresails ripping, hardware flying and crews scrambling to repair the damage. The French entry, Ville de Paris, even broke its main sheet block.
When 18-knot winds met the fleet on May 4, the first day of for-real racing, it was no longer funny. The Spanish boat, Spain '92, had to retire early when its steering pedestal cracked. A crewman aboard Ville de Paris lost a tooth when a spinnaker pole snapped in his face. And then a real calamity: Nippon's 110-foot mast broke a few feet above the deck ("the loudest noise I've ever heard," said Stars & Stripes's tactician, Tom Whidden) and toppled into the ocean—a $450,000 swizzle stick.
"I think the guys who made the rule for the design of these boats are idiots," said Koch, whose factory-fresh Jayhawk, with himself at the helm, had to retire from the race when her jib track came loose. "I think these boats are incredibly dangerous, very expensive and foolish," he said. "I think someone is going to get hurt out here. I fear in a collision the deck could collapse."
Chris Dickson, the 29-year-old New Zealander at the helm of Nippon, Japan's first-ever Cup entry, disagreed: "These boats...are exactly what the America's Cup is all about. But they are not a boat that the average sailor will feel happy in."
"Yes, that was a shot at me," said Koch, after Dickson's remark was relayed to him. Koch has been sailing big boats for less than a decade. "I knew someone would call me on my credentials," he said. "I'm an anomaly. I'm not a hired gun."
Once the wind had died down—and you can take that however you want—everyone remembered that the Worlds were meant to test the boats' limits, to help the designers find a workable compromise between speed and durability. Few, if any, of the craft racing last week will still be racing in next year's America's Cup. They are prototypes.
"The next generation of boats will improve quite a bit," said Whidden. "I think if we were doing it in 12-meters or boats we know better, there wouldn't be the excitement and the learning curve and the intellectual challenge."
By agreeing to race in the new IACC boats, the challengers and defenders hope to confine the intellectual challenge to the waves and keep the America's Cup out of the courtroom, where it languished after the bizarre 1988 Cup series between Sir Michael Fay's monohull, New Zealand, and Conner's catamaran, Stars & Stripes. (Stars & Stripes won on the sea and in the courts.) The IACC class is also supposed to add speed and excitement to the matches. The 12-meter yachts in use from 1958 to '87 were increasingly seen as heavy, unmaneuverable and too predictable. The fastest boat almost always won.
"I shouldn't have called the designers idiots," Koch conceded later in the week. "But these boats are so bloody expensive. They could eventually go the way of the J boats [the dinosaurs in use in America's Cup competition before World War II]."
The new course, like the boats, got mixed reviews. America co-skipper Gary Jobson bemoaned the lack of passing opportunities on the reaches, but most everyone else welcomed the Z-course turns, which force more sail changes and reward good crew work. The spectator appeal of the downwind finish was underscored on May 6, when Jayhawk caught a wind change on the final run and breezed past New Zealand to win a fleet race.