A month ago, the second Cadillac Columbus Cup sailing regatta was held on the Chesapeake Bay off the Patapsco River. Among the stories that developed during that week of match racing was the formation of America 3, expected by many to be the super defense syndicate in the 1992 America's Cup.
While America 3 was getting pretty good bang for its buck at the Columbus Cup, another story was developing into a squall that blew through the fleet.
A principal player in both stories was Larry Klein, a self-assured Californian who had been Rolex Yachtsman of the Year and carried a short and impressive list of sailing credentials.
America 3 was the brainstorm of billionaire Bill Koch, who arranged a merger of Buddy Melges' Cleveland-based Yankee syndicate and Klein's San Diego group, Triumph America, with Koch's formidable financial resources and technology base and Annapolis sailor Gary Jobson's extensive experience.
It was at once a marvelous idea and an unusual mixture.
Melges has been a sailing superstar for many years in many classes of yachts and was the skipper for the Heart of America challenge in Fremantle, Australia, a few years ago.
Koch, who built the Oxbow Corp. into a billion-dollar enterprise, has had incredible success with Matador 2 on the maxiboat circuit and in his own right apparently is a capable skipper.
Jobson has been involved in a slew of America's Cups as tactician, adviser and television commentator.
Klein was the new kid on the block who swaggered into the Inner Harbor as a guest of the Columbus Cup Regatta and who repaid his hosts with shameless disregard for convention.
During the Columbus Cup, Klein was the skipper of Team USA, which would sail a 44-foot sloop with a hand-picked core crew and a complement of sailors drawn from a pool of local talent.
As it happened, Linda Stearns, one of the most successful sailors in the United States, was made a member of Klein's crew.
Stearns is not large, nor is she small and dainty. She is a sailmaker, a skipper experienced in ocean racing as well as fleet and match racing. In each discipline, the physical requirements are rigorous, the mental requirements taxing, and Stearns has met the test in each repeatedly.
She is, however, a woman, and Klein, in effect, bounced her from his crew. This from the same guy who won a J/24 championship with a female crew member.
Why? Well, Klein said, at the completion of the Columbus Cup, the J/44s were big boats, and big bodies were needed to sail them. Fifty pounds more on the rail could mean a lot. A greater reach on the halyards might mean a split second gained in hoisting a sail.
Essentially, Klein was saying, she is a woman, and women just don't cut it in big-boat sailing.
But let's look at how well Stearns has cut it in big-boat sailing, especially in J/44s.
As a sailmaker, Stearns runs North Sails in Baltimore, a highly regarded loft that has a great deal of experience in building sails for J/44s and which produced and repaired sails for the Columbus Cup.
Sailmakers, by the nature of the game, spend a lot of time with their customers and their customers' boats, checking sails, demonstrating how certain sails might be best trimmed.
A sailmaker on board is a feather in anyone's cap. A sailmaker whose specialty is the sails for a boat new to a skipper, as the J/44s were to Klein, is a war bonnet.
Stearns has raced J/44s in the prestigious Onion Patch Series and from Newport to Bermuda. She has raced them whenever an owner wanted to improve his boat's performance and needed the help of an expert.
And, perhaps more importantly, she has raced J/44s and a slew of other boats in the mouth of the Patapsco River, where knowledge of local sailing conditions can be crucial.
The three other skippers who made it to the final series of the Columbus Cup said they would have welcomed anyone with similar talents to their crews. Russell Coutts of New Zealand, whose crew won the regatta, said he would have welcomed two or three similar sailors.
Klein, however, seems to walk to his own beat, for better or worse.
At the time of the formation of America 3, Jobson said, "If anyone becomes a problem, the bottom line is that, if ego gets in the way, you're gone."
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Klein has been bumped from the America 3 syndicate and cited the Stearns incident as part of the cause.
So, color Klein gone, and expect few here to wear black or mourn his passing.
* The America's Cup Organizing Committee and the Challenge of Record Committee has named the international jury for the America's Cup match in 1992 -- Goran Petersson of Sweden (chairman), Cy Gillette of the United States, Paul Henderson of ,, Canada, Graeme Owens of Australia, John Ripard of Malta and Carlo Rolandi of Italy.