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Conner Wings It to Another Easy Win : After Second Crushing Defeat, Losing Kiwis Are Headed for Court

Times Staff Writer

For a little while Friday, it was the America’s Cup magic of Fremantle, with spray flying and Dennis Conner steering a gunsmoke-blue boat to victory.

But that was the only striking resemblance to one of sailing’s glorious hours. This time Stars & Stripes was a catamaran, to Cup purists a twin-hulled abomination with an airplane wing for a sail that finished off New Zealand’s massive monohull with the old 1-2 in the best-of-three series.

The race was close for about 15 minutes, but Conner, sailing conservatively as he had in Wednesday’s first race, steadily stretched out the space between boats and won by 21 minutes 10 seconds--a distance of about 4 1/2 miles on the 39-mile triangular course.

The most lopsided Cup race ever was Mayflower’s victory over Galatea by 29:09 in 1886, but Friday’s was larger than Wednesday’s 18-minute 15-second margin on a 40-mile windward-leeward course and confirmed what New Zealand syndicate chief Michael Fay has been saying. The event was, indeed, a ludicrous mismatch.

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So before counting his third Cup victory--plus one as starting helmsman and tactician aboard Courageous in 1974--Conner probably will have to endure a third trip to court by his Kiwi rivals, who have found only the American legal system willing to give them a break.

Indeed, when he steered the flimsy-looking craft back into his compound, Conner looked like a man claiming a hollow victory.

He took his ceremonial dunk in the water but seemed weary, glum and apart from the frivolity of his crew, grimacing as he picked his way barefoot across the gravel to the office building.

This Cup defense, marked by months of animosity between the two sides, may have been even less fun than 1983’s when Conner’s 12-meter Liberty lost the Cup to Australia II.

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At least Friday’s race had a few competitive moments.

Unlike Wednesday, when the failed to engage before the start, Conner pounced on New Zealand’s stern at the 10-minute gun and chased the big boat a quarter-mile below the starting line, almost drifting in the light 3 to 5 knots of wind.

With five minutes to go, New Zealand skipper David Barnes jibed KZ-1 away from Conner and headed back up toward the line, but at minus-two minutes Conner slipped under Barnes’ leeward bow as both slowed to avoid crossing the line early.

Then, 100 yards from the line, they trimmed their sails and accelerated--but the cat shot away, crossing the line 43 seconds after the gun and 29 seconds ahead of New Zealand.

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Both skippers then showed just how maneuverable their boats could be. Barnes tacked to port as he crossed the line, and Conner followed. But then Barnes did a “false tack,” bringing his boat momentarily head to wind as if he were going to tack, then falling off to the same course.

Conner fell for it, and in recovering, gave up the lead to the Kiwis, who pulled alongside and forced him to tack away.

When they met on opposite tacks three minutes later, Barnes had starboard rights and Conner was unable to cross in front, tacking away again, and they settled into a long starboard tack, with the Kiwis controlling the game.

At 13 minutes of the race, however, Stars & Stripes was pointing higher into the wind and crowded up in front of KZ-1, forcing Barnes to break away, and New Zealand never led again.

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All Barnes could do was force Conner into a tacking duel, but the catamaran answered every Kiwi move with agility uncommon to its design.

Heading upwind, the wind built to 10 knots, then 15 a few miles from the windward mark, and Stars & Stripes took down its small headsail while KZ-1, dragging its leeward wing in the water as it became overpowered, twice changed down to smaller headsails.

Conner rounded the windward mark exactly 10 minutes in front, then, despite the wind, kept his boat depowered without flying a hull to safely protect his lead of 11:56 at the reach mark and cruise home more than comfortably.


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