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Adversity Comes at Nippon in Waves : Regatta: Dickson skippers Japanese syndicate’s boat to third despite a host of problems. After two second-place finishes, he says the practice races gave his crew a confidence boost.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The brass over at Team Dennis Conner’s compound listened to weather predictions and begged out of the Pre-Worlds Regatta, while USA-9, one of America-3’s two entries, stayed home to nurse an ailing boom.

However, when the going got tough for Nippon Challenge, Chris Dickson’s crew served notice to Thursday’s landlubbers that it won’t be deterred by a boatload of trouble.

Nippon overcame a premature start, a spinnaker pole broken in two on the second reach and a torn spinnaker sail on the final downwind leg to finish third in Race 3 and first overall after two days of practice racing.

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“We certainly made life tough on ourselves,” Dickson said. “It’s easy for a team to look good when everything is going your way. But it takes true grit when things don’t go your way.

“Everybody kept fighting and it’s a well-deserved third-place finish. There were more setbacks than anyone could expect, and I’m very pleased with the team’s performance.”

Nippon placed second in both of Wednesday’s 10-mile exercises and toured Thursday’s 21.2-mile layout in 3 hours 10 minutes 29.4 seconds, nearly eight minutes behind winning New Zealand.

“Three warm-up races don’t count for a whole bunch,” Dickson said. “But you’ve got to be consistent to be in there with the top performers.

“It was a very shifting day with the wind, but our tactician, John Cutler, was right on top of it.”

The Japanese have been working for almost four years in putting together this first challenge for the America’s Cup, and while earning high marks for their industrial and technical know-how, they were supposed to go dead in the water because of sailing inexperience.

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However, the Japanese have logged more than 8,000 hours of practice time and have enlisted the expertise of New Zealand’s Dickson, the world’s top-ranked match racing skipper.

Put it all together, as they did Wednesday and Thursday, and it’s a confidence-building boost for next week’s World Championship.

“The results are very meaningful because our crew was equal to the top if not the best,” said Kaoru Ogimi, vice commodore for the Nippon Challenge. “The crew work both days was very gratifying. They were faced with some very testing circumstances and they recovered well. But this is just the beginning.”

At the start of Race 3, the Japanese crew found itself running out of space to maneuver as Ville de Paris, France’s entry, closed on the starting line.

“We thought we had a good start,” Dickson said, “but obviously we didn’t.”

Nippon’s false start and turnaround to start again put it 49 seconds behind the field. A broken spinnaker pole a short time later demanded yet another adjustment.

“It was clean break and so we took a two-meter pole and with a lot of lashing, patched it up,” Dickson said. “But we were struggling the whole time with the spinnaker.”

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Nippon moved forward, though, from sixth after the start to fifth after the first leg and into third on the fifth leg. It’s finishing kick was sabotaged by a blown spinnaker, but as Dickson said, “that was no surprise.

“Everything else had gone wrong,” he said, “so why not something else.”

Nippon’s effort to run off with the America’s Cup has a campaign budget of six billion yen ($40 million). The Japanese have been based in San Diego’s Mission Bay since early March after breaking base camp in Gamagori, a tiny town south of Tokyo.

The opportunity to spar with yachting’s finest experts has been a long time in coming.

“We’ve been committed to this since the end of racing in Fremantle. This is the first time for all the teams to be vying against each other and that’s exciting,” said Ogimi. “As for our performance, we’re reasonably happy, but we’re only getting our feet wet. This is just the beginning.

“When it comes to the America’s Cup, we’ve been told all along there is no second. We’re after the top spot.”

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