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Congressional Cup : Davis, Former American Turned Kiwi, and Isler Share Lead at 3-0

Times Staff Writer

Some people may never understand Rod Davis, who went to Australia an American and came back a Kiwi.

Dennis Conner called him “Benedict Davis” for throwing in with New Zealand’s America’s Cup program after the 1987 competition at Fremantle, when Davis sailed the ill-fated Eagle for the Newport Harbor Yacht Club.

Others wondered why he’d rather live Down Under than in the United States, but it’s not very complicated.

All Davis wants to do is raise a happy family and win an America’s Cup, and New Zealand seems to offer the best opportunity for both ambitions, what with Conner having a corner on America’s Cup defenses in this country.

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Davis especially longed to be in Auckland Wednesday, even while he was winning all three of his races to share the lead with San Diego’s Peter Isler on the first day of the 25th Congressional Cup match races.

Davis’ wife, Liz, gave birth to their second child, Caroline, in Auckland Monday.

“It was supposed to be on the 26th,” he said. “I was supposed to be there for that.”

Their first child, Hannah, was born two years ago at Fremantle, and Davis settled in his wife’s native land afterward when he was offered the job as sailing master, or crew coach, for the big Kiwi monohull that Conner’s catamaran obliterated in two races off San Diego last September.

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Davis, 35, couldn’t sail on the boat because he hadn’t lived in the country for two years, but that won’t be a problem next time. He might even be the skipper.

“It will probably come down to David Barnes and myself,” Davis said.

Barnes steered the big boat at San Diego and is serving as Davis’ tactician in the Congressional.

“It hasn’t even been discussed yet,” Davis said, “but it won’t be a problem. David and I are real good friends.”

They worked well together Wednesday in defeating John Shadden of Long Beach by 1 minute 51 seconds; Bill Lynn of Rowayton, Conn. by 2:35 and ’87 winner Eddie Owen of Wales by 30 seconds.

Should Davis go on to win the event, he would be the first three-time champion, following victories in ’81 and ’85.

And would he also be the fourth foreigner in a row to win, following Ireland’s Harold Cudmore, Owen and Australia’s Peter Gilmour?

“In that we’re representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, I guess that’s what it would be,” Davis said. “Times change.”

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In Wednesday’s light, 10-knot winds dying to six by the third round, Shadden didn’t have a bad day himself. Although he hadn’t been aboard a boat until two weeks ago since winning a bronze medal in the Olympics last fall, he recovered from the loss to Davis to beat the last two Congressional winners, Owen and Gilmour.

One of Shadden’s crew, Ron Rosenberg of Long Beach, said Shadden didn’t ask him to help until two weeks earlier, “and yesterday was the first day we’d all been on the boat together.”

Then there was the host Long Beach Yacht Club’s other entry, Steve Steiner, whose crew logged 230 hours of preparation since the first of the year sailing the sluggish Catalina 38s used in the event, only to lose all three races to Isler, two-time winner Dave Perry--by a whopping 5:35--and Lynn, even after Lynn had to return to restart after jumping the gun.

Go figure.

Isler’s crew ignored a bad omen when their spinnaker pole fell on bowman Hart Jordan’s thumb and broke it at the end of practice Tuesday.

“We’ll get it done somehow,” Jordan said before leaving the dock with his hand heavily wrapped.

They did fine, defeating Steiner, John Bertrand and Perry. They aren’t scheduled to encounter Davis until the seventh round, which will probably be Friday.

Isler, who also has America’s Cup ambitions of his own after serving as Conner’s navigator in the last two events, passed Bertrand on the second upwind leg by picking the favored left side of the course.

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Bertrand was still on Isler’s stern rounding the last leeward mark but tacked too soon for clear wind in the soft air, lost headway and almost drifted into the mark as Isler sailed away.

Shadden executed a well-timed jibe to nudge out Gilmour at the last leeward mark. Then, as Gilmour went left, Shadden followed the shifting wind toward the sunset to the right to win easily by 1:38.

Davis botched his start against Owen, getting off 32 seconds behind, but got on Owen’s wind with a series of downwind jibes and, as Owen said with raised eyebrows, “he just sailed right through us.”

The first race today between Steiner and Japan’s Makoto Namba could determine the winner of Arthur Knapp’s book, “Race Your Boat Right,” which traditionally goes to the last-place skipper. Each is 0-3.

Sailing Notes

The crews will change boats today and every day throughout the series, which is scheduled to end Saturday. . . . The 1 1/2-mile windward-leeward course was shortened for the last two races Wednesday because of weakening winds. . . . No penalties were imposed by the on-the-water judges. John Shadden popped a protest flag against Peter Gilmour for luffing him beyond head to wind at the start of their race, but the judges waved it off as a “no-harm, no-foul” maneuver.

Peter Isler, who has earned his own stars and stripes as a match racer, has left Dennis Conner Sports Inc. to form his own company, Isler Sailing International. Isler has won three major match racing titles and is 3-0 in this week’s Congressional Cup. His ultimate ambition, should San Diego win in court against New Zealand: To face his old boss for the right to skipper the America’s Cup defender in 1991.


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