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America's Cup ... as close as you can get.

THE CIVILIZED REFER to the America's Cup as an elaborate high-seas chess match, techies emphasize its design strategies, superpatriots call it war, and fun lovers use it as an excuse to party.

For all concerned parties (even those concerned only with parties), the payoff comes now, as America's Cup '92 gets under way in San Diego. From late January until mid-May, $200-million worth of boats from 10 nations and their high-priced skippers will dance, parry, and joust their way toward the oldest trophy in international sports.

Would that it were only the cup itself on the line. Alas, national pride, bitter rivalries, international money, and a potential tourist bonanza for the winning nation (it hosts the next Cup) have upped the stakes from the days when England's Sir Thomas Lipton and his tea could become happily famous in the United States even while he failed to take the Cup in five attempts.

The Cup is an elusive event, with neither stadium nor stands. To best appreciate it, you need strategies for spectating and enjoying the scene both asea and ashore.


America's Cup officials describe sailing as a wonderful spectator sport, if you know what to look for. More objective observers emphasize that the 3-hour races are actually pretty difficult to follow, especially for casual fans who may not know a spinnaker from a hull in a head wind.

For a close, live look at race, the only real option is riding out the day in a spectator boat. (The closest the course gets to land is 3 miles off Point Loma.) However, to enjoy a viewing boat it's a good idea to expand your preconceptions about "good seats": the flotilla following the competitors stays at least 400 yard away. Remember to bring binoculars, and make sure your boat has on-board commentary and close-circuit television coverage.

To book space on boats, call the America's Cup Services Travel Desk at (800) 922-8792. From now through

M y 3 concurrent tournaments decide the defender (from among U.S. boats) and challenger (from among all the others); costs are $30 for preliminaries, $90 for semi-finals and finals. The best-of-seven America's Cup Match itself begins May 9; cost per race is $150.

Trips last about 6 hours. You can also try "unofficial" boats that depart from docks downtown, and from Shelter Island, Harbor Island, and Mission Bay.



The main onshore gathering spot is the America's Cup International Centre, located downtown near the harbor, where Broadway hits Pacific Highway. It's open through May and has a giant-screen TV to show races in progress, plus displays from Cup contenders, souvenirs, and food.

Several other Cup-related attractions are also worth considering.

Crew compounds. Cup teams are scattered from Mission Bay to Coronado, and their compounds are guarded tightly. But insiders say you have a chance of catching crews heading to sea between 9 and 10 and returning between 4:30 and 5. When Cup yacths pass by, a horn sounds near the Star of India and the Maritime Museum downtown.

In Coronado, Regatta Village--next to the New Zealand compound--has shops with Cup memorabilia, a pub and restaurant, and a view of yachts coming to and from the course. It's at 1511 Marine Way and is open 11 to 8:30 Tuesdays through Sundays. New Zealand's public relations office there has videos and team information; its hours are 9 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays.

America's Cup Museum. The Cup's 140-year history reads like a long-running soap opera, with characters from Queen Victoria to Ted Turner, props from schooners to catamarans.

Displays here include Stars and Stripes '87, the yacht that local boy Dennis Conner sailed to victory, and a computer system that lets you design your own yacht. The museum, open through May, is at 1150 N. Harbor Drive, in the cruise ship terminal. Hours are 10 to 6 daily; admission is $3 adults, $1 ages 6 through 12.

The Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center. Bringing viewers onto the decks of Cup yachts, the Omnimax film Race the Wind includes extensive footage from Conner's 1987 victory in Perth, Australia, and the controversial 1988 race between Conner's catamaran and the New Zealand challenger. The film is screened daily through May 10. The center is in Balboa Park. Admission is $5.50 adults, $4 seniors, $3.50 ages 5 through 15. For details, call (619) 238-1168.

San Diego Museum of Art. The Great Age of Sail: Treasures from the National Maritime Museum features maps, paintings, ship models, and instruments lent by the museum, which is in Greenwich, England.

The exhibit runs March 7 through October 11. Hours are 10 to 4:30 Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission costs $5 adults, $4 seniors, $2 ages 6 through 17.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Author:Jaffe, Matthew
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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