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THE AMERICA’S CUP : Conner Delivers Expected Rout of New Zealand : Stars & Stripes Sails Away to 18-Minute 15-Second Win

Associated Press

Dennis Conner took Stars & Stripes on a Sunday sail Wednesday, thrashing New Zealand, as expected, in the opening race of a best-of-three America’s Cup series.

New Zealand’s 34 crewmen, including owner Michael Fay, could only perch on their giant yacht’s overhanging deck and watch like seagulls as Conner’s 60-foot catamaran disappeared towards the horizon to win the 40-mile race by a country mile. Stars & Stripes reached the finish line 18 minutes, 15 seconds ahead of the sloop.

The 133-foot Kiwi challenger was out of the race soon after taking the start by 10 seconds. Conner, reining in his swift flier with its upright airplane wing to avoid gear breakdown, just sailed away in 6-15 knot winds over a calm Pacific Ocean.

“When he wants to go faster, he can,” said Marc Pajot, a spectator and skipper of French Kiss, a failed challenger in the ’86-87 Cup series in Australia.

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The only competition for Stars & Stripes, which covered the course in 4:54:06, was from porpoises playing alongside the twin-hulled craft that at times sailed as fast as the wind.

The next race is scheduled for Friday and if New Zealand were to win, the deciding race would be Sunday.

The start was far more gentlemanly than the suits and angry words that have marked this court-directed race. Both yachts stayed clear of each other after Conner simply sailed away from a pre-race maneuver by Kiwi skipper David Barnes.

A flotilla of 1,000 spectator yachts watched the start of the Pacific Ocean’s first Cup race. Only the higher-powered boats could keep up as the racers headed to the first mark, 20 miles upwind. Stars & Stripes took 2:36:00 to reach the mark in a dying and shifty zephyr.

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Conner rounded the buoy, anchored in 4,000 feet of water, with about a one-mile lead of 9:04. His nine-man crew then raised a headsail with the emblem of a soft drink company, the first time advertising has been allowed on a Cup racer.

The only surprise was that Conner could head into the wind almost as closely as New Zealand and that the Kiwis didn’t finish even farther behind than they did. New Zealand’s designer, Bruce Farr, said before the race his yacht could lose by more than an hour to the catamaran.

The race had another first. A windshift to the south instead of the westerlies that were forecast meant the windward mark had to be set in Mexican waters, the first time a Cup race has been in two countries.

It was also the first time a twin-hulled boat was in a Cup race, and should Conner retain the Cup he would join Charley Barr, a skipper at the turn of the century, as the only man to win the Cup three times. Conner is already the first American to lose it (1983) and the first to recapture it (1987).

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Fay, an Auckland high roller in investment banking, has protested in court and elsewhere that the race he sued to have held would be a mismatch if his radical monohull had to race the San Diego Yacht Club’s cat.

The SYDC’s Cup arm, Sail America, damned Fay’s torpedoes and held firm with its plans to build a high-tech catamaran.

The resultant catfight had in the background the loss of $1.2 billion in revenues this city thought it would have gained if SDYC’s planned 1991 regatta for some 20 international 12-meter yachts had gone off as planned.


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