You can tell the men from the boys, they say, by the cost of their toys. Some of the most expensive toys in the world are on display these days off San Diego, competing for the America's Cup. Once the sailing trophy of the elite, the cup competition is now open to anyone -- anyone with tens of millions of dollars to blow, that is.
There are essentially two kinds of sailors, those who cruise for the pleasure of it and those who find greater satisfaction in competing with other boats. And there are levels of competition, from club races on weekends to major contests which draw entrants from around the world. Some of them are grueling tests of sailing skills, like the Whitbread round-the-world race, in which there was shamefully no American contestant last time out. There was a boat and a crew at the starting line, but they could not raise enough money to sail the course.
Finally, there is the America's Cup. In sailboat racing, it is the pinnacle. But of what? To some, it is the height of international competition. To others, it is the height of irresponsible extravagance. The spectacle of ten individuals or syndicates spending anywhere from $10 million to upwards of $40 million apiece strikes them as grotesque.