Friday, September 23, 2011

Another America's Cup Village, Another Flashback

Author's Note: In the news today, California will get another America's Cup Village, this one in San Francisco. I remember a couple of them we've had in San Diego: opaque photo ops miles out to sea, subsidies, corporate schwag, the lull between The Cold War and The War on Terror. Good times. 

I wrote this column for the Times Advocate (R.I.P): "Kiwis to get more than they expect: Curse of America’s Cup goes to New Zealand too" (C2, 5/14/95). With The America’s Cup returning to California, excuse me if I don’t go with the flow. I’ve already been downstream.

SAN DIEGO--The America's Cup is cursed. Look at the carnage around it, businessmen who should have known better: Alan Bond, Raul Gardini, Sir Michael Faye. Now Peter Blake wants a crack at holding the Cup. That's a real challenge.
 The America's Cup was really England's way of getting even with the colonies for The Revolution. After winning the Cup from England, sportsmanship at New York Yacht Club was lost in a fog bank for more than a century. San Diego Yacht Club has done no better.
Few moments define SDYC's stewardship of the America's Cup like the three-way defense deal struck before the Citizen's Defender Finals (Sponsored by Citizen Watches: "With Citizen, you won't run out of time") when the rules would have left Conner watching the America’s Cup on ESPN.

Allowing Conner into the finals only lit the fuse for more mistakes. Usually the captain goes down with the boat. In Conner's case, the captain went down on someone else's boat.

So is the America's Cup a sport or not?

Conner explained the three-way finals like this: ''It's best for the defense and its corporate sponsors, and what's good for the corporate world is good support for the world market if you think it through."

So there it is. The America's Cup is a professional sport with the emphasis on profession. It’s like trickle- down sports: once sponsors get the rules committee to say what they want the rules to say, there will be competition.

Yachtsmen are not the best role models for the nation's youth. Wasn't it Bill Koch who said winning is the most important thing? And Conner himself defined yachting sportsmanship at the victory press conference for the '88 Catamaran's when he hurled the supreme put-down at New Zealand's boat designer: "You're a loser." 
Blake, however, is no loser. He won the Whitbread and met the Jules Verne Challenge to sail around the world in 80 days. Blake is a serious winner. Now he has won big, and big winning has a way of changing people. Sometimes it even helps them.

Not only does he stand taller than most sailors, but Blake also has the reptilian ability to never blink. So from a great height, he seems to look down at and right through people to a brighter day when we won't be here. Blake was allegedly the force who set U.S. hired gun Rod Davis ashore during the challenger's finals for the Cup in '92. The mood around Team New Zealand's compound has been described as "darkly militaristic." (This was the sailing syndicate that took a Navy SEAL reservist into custody in Coronado for taking underwater pictures of its boat’s keel.)

And now he's going on the offensive. Consider Dennis Conner. Ever since winning the America’s Cup from Australia in 1987, Conner has hucked, shucked and liquidated so many pieces of himself that he fell apart like the U.S.S.R. In order to save his life, he had to lose the America's Cup. Look at Conner's tenure with Diet Pepsi. Most diet products want spokesperson who loses rather than gains weight. Conner may have talent for knowing which way the wind blows, but the product the man is most qualified to represent is health care insurance.

Now, by losing the Cup, the U.S. can finally get even with Nuclear Free New Zealand for not allowing our nukes in their harbors. The America's Cup is like a neutron bomb that punches microscopic holes in the poise of whoever holds it, leaving only the hulking human remains of men behind.
Although New Zealand has the Cup, the real sport has only just begun: can Blake hold onto the America's Cup and his dignity at the same time?

Postscript: In 2001, Sir Peter Blake was killed during a gun battle with pirates who had boarded his boat in the Amazon delta off Brazil. In 1995, winning at any cost seemed to be the greatest threat to the “dignity” of America’s Cup challengers and defenders. Although Blake surprised the pirates and shot one of them first, his gun then malfunctioned.