What a strange party it was, this International America's Cup Class (IACC) World Championship that was held last week in San Diego. Iain Murray of Australia sent his regrets but showed up anyway to get fat on gossip and take photographs of everybody in their finery—from a helicopter, no less. The U.S.'s Dennis Conner ate half the hors d'oeuvres, then left before the main course, saying he didn't have a thing to wear. The Japanese debutante let her hair down too early, but came back with a $450,000 coif and almost danced the last dance.
And then there was the American millionaire Bill Koch, having more fun than anyone even while observing that the party was too expensive and was planned by idiots and if they didn't do something about it, somebody was going to get hurt.
They had said all along it wasn't a real world championship, only a sort of pretend one—a run-through, a rehearsal, a mock turtle soup of yacht racing. The real thing is the America's Cup itself, and that doesn't get started till January next, when the Challenger and Defender selection series commence off San Diego's Point Loma. Last week's competition was a chance to get acquainted with the new 75-foot IACC sloops (replacing the traditional 12-meter yachts) and the eight-leg, 22.6-mile course, with its Z-lap reaches, buttonhook turn and downwind finishing leg (replacing the old six-leg, 24.6-mile, upwind finishing course).
"It's a great little step toward the Cup," is how Paul Cayard sized up the Worlds last Saturday, "but we know we've got a lot of work to do in the next nine months."
That, if Paul was too quick for you, was his victory speech. Cayard, a San Francisco native, skippered Italy's Il Moro di Venezia to a passionless victory over New Zealand in the final match on Saturday afternoon. But he seemed pleased. As pleased—no more, no less—as Rod Davis, co-skipper of the runner-up Kiwis, who said, "It's been really good for us to get together and slam the boats around a little bit."
This, obviously, was not the regatta of the century. Even so, it was a major letdown when Team Dennis Conner withdrew from the nine-boat event on May 8, after qualifying for the match-racing semis with a third-place finish in the five-day fleet-racing phase of the Worlds. Eyebrows were raised at Conner's excuse: insufficient sails and fear that his boat, Stars & Stripes, would be damaged by the stress of match racing.
"I think he should race, personally," said a skeptical Cayard. Said Davis: "We're disappointed." The other defender syndicate, which was headed by Koch and had two boats entered in the event, America and Jayhawk, had even offered to lend yachting's biggest star the sails he said he needed.
Conner declined, of course. Who goes to a ball in hand-me-downs? Instead, he flew to New York last Thursday to meet with potential sponsors—to keep appointments he had made before the Worlds started.
This novel approach to the Worlds—keeping your hull dry—wasn't unique to Stars & Stripes. Australia's Murray, who lost to Conner in the 1987 America's Cup, in Fremantle, Australia, arrived in San Diego boatless but fitted out with binoculars, telephoto lenses and a helicopter. "We can pick up a lot by watching," said Murray, whose Spirit of Australia won't be ready till September.
A second Australian syndicate and syndicates from Great Britain, Sweden and the Soviet Union joined Murray as spectators, confirming the observation by one of Stars & Stripes's designers, Bruce Nelson, that "buying a couple of airline tickets, some pencils and a notebook and watching the Worlds might be more cost-effective than building a boat."