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Counting down to America's Cup '92; sailing events start this mouth in San Diego. On-shore exhibits open.

Counting down to America's Cup '92 Combining tradition and innovation, America's Cup '92 sails into San Diego this month. This competition for the world's oldest sports trophy is the culmination of more than a year of races, exhibits, and events that will turn San Diego into the world's sailing capital.

Yachts from 10 countries have been training in recent months, and their first head-to-head races take place May 4 through 11 in the America's Cup Class World Championships. These races are a prelude to next year's Cup competition.

The Cup runneth Down Under

For almost 140 years, the America's Cup remained a distinguished but somewhat obscure sporting event. From the time of the first race off the Isle of Wight, the 27-inch silver cup remained at the New York Yacht Club--that is, until 1983, when Australia II, designed with a revolutionary winged keel, wrested it away to Perth.

Defeat shook American sports fans out of their complacency, and in 1987, when San Diego's Dennis Conner's Stars and Stripes swept the Australian defender, Kookaburra III, the race became one of the nation's most-watched events.

Controversy entered the scene in 1988, after a surprise challenge by New Zealand. Instead of the traditional 12-meter yachts, the match pitted the Kiwis' giant 132-foot yacht against Conner's 60-foot catamaran, the first multihulled boat in the competition's history. The American boat won, 2-0.

Previewing the new class of '92

After the chaos and court fights of 1988, participants agreed to revised rules. One big change is in yacht size, now 57 feet long at the water line, versus 45 feet for the 12-meter craft. Besides being bigger and faster, the new yachts also have larger crews: 16 instead of 11.

Boats in the new yacht class will face their first tests this month in the world championships. Races will start at 12:30 each day, except May 9, a rest day. Viewing boats will carry spectators out to see the races. Call (800) 922-8792; prices vary.

Don't expect to see much from shore. Races will take place about 3 miles due west of Point Loma, the best vantage point. The new eight-leg, 22.3-mile course features a downwind finish that could produce some dramatic and colorful sprints as the giant spinnakers unfurl.

Defender and challenger selection series run next January through April; a dozen yachts from 10 countries will vie for the challenger position, while several American boats will fight to defend. The best-of-seven finals start May 9, 1992; plan well ahead for lodging and tickets.

What's happening ashore

America's Cup International Village will serve as the hub of onshore activities during both the world championships and the Cup competition. Participating countries will offer their own programs. And a barge floating just offshore will have a giant screen showing the races.

The village will be open May 3 through 12 at Embarcadero Marina Park N., next to Seaport Village. During the 1992 competition, it will be open April 17 through May 17.

The America's Cup Museum, at the B Street Pier, opens May 1. It will display more than a century of Cup history--including the trophy itself, as well as the Stars and Stripes. Hours are 10 to 6 daily; admission is $5, $1 children.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:May 1, 1991
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