U.S. again considered in danger of losing America's Cup

July 07, 1991|By Tony Chamberlain | Tony Chamberlain,Boston Globe

One day in Newport, R.I., in July 1983, a memo was passed quietly from the afterguard of the Liberty campaign to the race committee of the New York Yacht Club.

A simple memo, but with huge import. If matters stand as they are, it said, the United States most certainly will lose the America's Cup.

Matters stood. America lost the Cup for the first time -- a 132-year streak broken. And that memo put into action a summer of the most intense America's Cup warfare on and off the water that the modern world had ever seen.

What made this clarion call so poignant -- even in seven years retrospect -- is the fact that this was the first loss.

Gone forever were those Newport summers (snooze) featuring the New York Yacht Club whaling on yet another hapless Cup challenger (yawn) who came to town to enjoy the parties at Rosecliff off the water and dutifully act as fodder for the United States on the water. In that order of interest.

Not that the Liberty memo changed anything; it merely showed where the United States stood against the Australians and their breakthrough 12-meter.

Gary Jobson's resignation last Tuesday from the Bill Koch America Cubed syndicate may well be looked back on a year or so from now as the same sort of harbinger.

This is not to flatter Jobson with the idea that he -- or any one sailor, for that matter -- is going to swing the fortunes of the Cup defense one way or another. Nor is it to imply that Jobson is some kind of rat jumping off a sinking ship.

But with more America's Cup experience than perhaps anyone else on the waterfront these days, listen to his simple message.

"I think the America's Cup is in serious jeopardy at this time," said Jobson in a phone interview from San Diego last Wednesday. "At this point, we need some serious decisions and some strong, fast sponsorship."

As Jobson sizes things up, here is how matters stand:

* Dennis Conner, clearly the most clever Cup sailor and $l organizer on the scene, could come through. No one is working any harder right now than Conner to beat the bushes for corporate sponsorship, but it's just not coming.

With six months to go before the first trials, decisions made today are vitally important, and most of them are based on how much money you have.

* The Koch campaign lacks competitive experience on the America's Cup level and has no possible way to gain any between now and the first gun.

Again, neither factor would have been altered had Jobson stayed with Koch, so it is not his leaving that sounds the warning bell, but his very inside view on the present shape of things that is important.

For Jobson, two inevitable forces converged leading to his resignation. For starters, who was going to run the show, make the ultimate decisions? "We were on a collision course," said Jobson. "Bill and I had different philosophies. We had some long, deep conversations. He has a passion for the sport, and likes the camaraderie. But I felt that unless I could control [the sailing program] and call the shots, it was time for me to move on. We couldn't go any further."

Koch's version agrees with Jobson's. "Gary wanted to pick the afterguard," said Koch. "But that would be like Magic Johnson picking the starting five of the Lakers rather than the coach. If the coach doesn't do the picking, he loses control of the team. Both of us agreed that the situation would not work."

Jobson recalls that in Newport in 1983, when he and Tom Blackaller sailed the ill-fated Defender to an ignominious loss against stablemate Courageous, the syndicate infighting became unbearable. "After the tragedy of Defender-Courageous, it took me a full year before I could sleep at night, and Blackaller was never right after that," said Jobson. "I could see it starting all over again, and I sure didn't want to live it again. I've seen that show."

The other card that kept turning over was Jobson's absolute love of TV, to which he will return. His work with Jim Kelly on ESPN during the Fremantle Cup had been exerting a powerful nostalgic tug. When he called ESPN president Steve Bornstein to ask if he still had a spot, Jobson was told they would welcome him back "with open arms."

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