Southern California's two America's Cup entrants suffered their first serious setbacks Monday in the first round of challenger trials, losing to rival American boats.
Rod Davis' Eagle from Newport Beach was defeated by USA from San Francisco by 2:24, and Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes from San Diego lost by 33 seconds to America II of New York.
However, officials of both losing syndicates thought the relatively light wind Monday was a factor because Stars & Stripes and Eagle are rigged for heavier winds, which are anticipated later in the Australian summer. America II and USA are tuned for lighter air.
"(America II skipper John) Kolius had the speed downwind," said Sandy Purdon, executive administrator for Sail America, "(and) USA's going to look good, but they're going to have their troubles when the wind comes up."
Stars & Stripes and Eagle will wait for a change in the wind.
"We don't want to do anything to (change) our boat," Purdon said. "When it gets to 15 knots and above, Stars & Stripes is the class of the fleet."
Said Bill Crispin, an Eagle official: "That (making changes) would be the worst thing either of us could do."
After Sunday's races were postponed because of gusts to 47 knots, the wind was no stronger than 13 knots Monday.
America II (6-1) rebounded on the next-to-last leg in the first clash of the United States' favorites. Only 10 seconds separated the boats at the last (downwind) mark.
Conner's first defeat took some of the edge off Thursday's scheduled match against New Zealand (7-0), the only unbeaten boat. Conner has indicated that he will protest the race, win or lose, to force officials to check the construction of New Zealand's fiberglass hull for illegal materials.
USA's victory over Eagle (4-3) placed the Golden Gate Challenge's revolutionary entry (4-4), heretofore a long shot, into the second level of favorites to reach the four-boat semifinals after Christmas.
The boat, performing better as skipper Tom Blackaller becomes accustomed to steering with rudders both fore and aft, has won its last three races. Its only losses have been to the top four boats: Stars & Stripes, New Zealand, America II and Britain's White Crusader. Eagle must still race the last three.
Kolius, after defeating Stars & Stripes, said: "Anytime Dennis and I race, it's close. It's like we took up where we left off."
He referred to their battle in the 1983 defender trials at Newport, R.I., when Conner defeated Kolius for the right to defend the cup.
"Well, you win some, you lose some," Conner said. "I was very confident. It was a good, pressure-filled race, (but) the wind called the tune."
Conner was 0:33 ahead rounding the first buoy, but more than two hours later in the 24.5-mile race Kolius got inside of Stars & Stripes and into the lead rounding the last mark. Conner came back to within a single boat length, then fell back in a tacking duel before the finish.
In the other closely watched match, USA led Eagle around every mark. Eagle was close until USA opened a big lead on the last beat.
"When the wind lightened up, they got away from us," Crispin said.
America's Cup Notes
Italia (4-3) broke a spinnaker pole but still came from behind to defeat Challenge France (0-7) by 1:38. The result was tentative, however, pending the outcome of protests by both sides. . . . There was a rumor that Courageous (0-7) was planning to withdraw, but administrative coordinator Norman Rosenblum denied it. He did say the syndicate planned some changes to make Courageous more competitive. The 12-year-old boat, which defended the cup in 1974 and 1977, already has undergone three major modifications and the crew is said to be very discouraged. They may decide to abandon ship. . . . Challenge France (0-7) and Azzurra (1-7) will have their newer boats for the second round next month. They weren't ready when this round started.