The library at the New York Yacht Club on West 44th Street is a quiet enclave with more than a century of yacht-racing history on its shelves. But the courthouse battles engulfing the America's Cup have turned it into something else, a kind of end zone for the legal teams looking for material to bolster their cases. If researchers wore uniforms, there would be different-colored jerseys at every table.
Attorneys from both the San Diego Yacht Club's cup defense and Michael Fay's New Zealand challenge have taken advantage of the New York club's hospitality, as have journalists and historians. They come and go alone or in pairs, poring through antique volumes in search of evidence. New Zealand charges that the San Diego Yacht Club's defense of the America's Cup with a catamaran is invalid. Fay says the series was a mismatch: multihull against his monohull challenger.
Sohei Hohri, the library's curator, has been instructed by the club's legal advisers to stay impartial. ''We are trying hard to be neutral,'' Hohri said in a recent interview. ''I have been told, 'Duck, keep your head down.' They'll be looking to seize on anything.''
In the early days of litigation, not all the attorneys knew each other. Hohri, a club librarian for 30 years, watched with trepidation one day as a team started discussing strategy out loud. He ran over to them and pointed out that the opposition was sitting at the next table. Ground Rules for Research
''I obviously can't tell one side what the other side is doing,'' Hohri said. ''Both sides have made noises about me helping the other. But I think it's just a ploy to try and make me nervous about being careful.''
The club has set up ground rules. Anyone working on a case has free access to books on the shelves and is allowed to copy pages.
If an attorney asks to see minutes of past New York Yacht Club meetings, there is a procedure. The investigators are searching for papers that date to the late 1880's, a historical period at the crux of the controversy. They want to know what was considered a fair match when the Deed of Gift, which governs cup racing, was drawn up in 1887.
The minutes of club meetings are locked in the New York Yacht Club's office safe. Club rules prevent the legal teams from thumbing through the historical documents. But Hohri will research a certain date, and make copies available after they have been scanned for proprietary information by the New York club's legal advisers. Whatever is distributed to one team is then passed to the other. Both sides are cautious about material they ask for because they know that it will be given to the opposition. 'It Was a Parade'
John Rousmaniere, an America's Cup author and historian, is a frequent visitor to the library. He produced a paper this month calling the race series in San Diego a mismatch. The New York Yacht Club submitted Rousmaniere's work to the New York State Supreme Court in response to a recent judicial request for the club's viewpoint. Justice Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick had asked the opinion of interested parties; the New York Yacht Club held the America's Cup from 1857 to 1983. New York concluded that San Diego's defense was illegal.
''Everybody could see that it was not a race, it was a parade,'' Frank V. Snyder, the New York club's commodore, said last week. ''We looked at the Deed of Gift, which said this was supposed to be a friendly competition. It was neither friendly, nor a competition.''
The New York club asked Justice Ciparick to void the September race series, which San Diego's Stars & Stripes catamaran won in a 2-0 sweep over New Zealand. Snyder said the club had submitted Rousmaniere's treatise for its historical merit. As a club member and historian updating his ''America's Cup Book,'' Rousmaniere had received permission from the New York Yacht Club for access to the library archives.
''I told him O.K., but give me a brief memo on what you find,'' Snyder said. ''He came back two weeks later with this 25-page piece of art.'' Compromise Suggested
Rousmaniere spent two days in the library last month going through material, some of which had apparently had not been seen by the other researchers. ''I was very nervous about that,'' Rousmaniere said. ''If anybody had been there while I was looking through those documents, I would have asked for a private room. But no one was.''
Officials of Sail America, the San Diego Yacht Club's event organizer, say there is nothing new in the Rousmaniere paper. John Marshall, a Sail America trustee, says his group has suggested a compromise to Justice Ciparick: settle the dispute by an international yachting jury rather than the courts.
The legal machinations are likely to go on into next year, and with them, a continued run on the New York Yacht Club library.