Eagle, thriving in the strong winds for which it was designed, cut a string of seven straight losses in the America's Cup challenger trials Monday by upsetting USA by 3 minutes 22 seconds.
The result left the Newport Beach boat with a 5-8 record but 1-1 in the second round and within striking distance of the leaders, since wins are now worth five points each, instead of one. Eagle was scheduled to race co-leader New Zealand today.
As rain squalls and wildly shifting winds of 20 to 25 knots battered the boats in the heaviest weather yet, New Zealand skipper Chris Dickson overcame several problems and enjoyed a sweet victory over San Diego's Dennis Conner by 58 seconds.
That not only reversed Dickson's only defeat but was a "take that" gesture toward the Sail America syndicate that had placed the legality of the Kiwis' fiberglass boat in question.
USA, the San Francisco entry skippered by Tom Blackaller, had won eight straight races, but Monday's became a runaway for Eagle halfway through when USA dragged its headsail in the water on the second reach. Preferring not to cut the $15,000 sail loose, Blackaller lost nearly three minutes to Eagle.
"Blackaller preferred to lose the race and save the jib," Eagle spokesman Michael Dinn said. "It would have been a classic race. The wind was on our side today."
Except during Blackaller's mishap, the boats were virtually equal in speed. A ripped spinnaker hardly slowed Davis as he rounded the last mark, 3 minutes 42 seconds ahead.
Eagle crewman Hart Jordan said: "It wasn't pretty. Big deal. We beat 'em."
The wind shifts were so extreme that Dickson and Conner raised reaching spinnakers on the first windward leg. Dickson lost two of his, although he never lost the lead.
Said Dickson: "Never before have I blown out two spinnakers on the first windward leg."
Conner got back to within a boat length on the second windward leg, while the New Zealand crew wrestled with a broken mainsail halyard, and again on the last leg when Dickson's mainsail released from its track. But the Kiwis reset the sail and eventually gained on the leg.
"It's one of those things you have nightmares about, hoping it never happens," Dickson said. "It appears the plastic boat enjoys the rough conditions. It's able to take it."
America's Cup Notes The New York Yacht Club's America II fought off French Kiss for a 53-second victory, Canada II walloped Italy's Azzurra by 2:17 and Great Britain's White Crusader outsailed Italia by 2:04. . . . The giant wind shifts forced postponement of the final race of the day between France and Heart of America for two hours. The race was shortened to 10.15 miles instead of the 24.5 miles sailed by the other 10 boats, and the Chicago boat won by 1:40.