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AMERICA’S CUP NOTEBOOK : Opponents Line Up to Appreciate Conner

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even opponents admired Dennis Conner’s performance in winning the Etchells 22 world championship in San Francisco last month.

The spectacle of a 47-year-old man returning to wet, physical, seat-of-the-pants sailing in a 27-foot, three-man boat prompted runner-up Peter Isler--Conner’s former Cup navigator--to say, “He’s just a good sailor. Everybody knows that, but he really impressed me and a lot of other people.”

Conner, who won world titles in the Star class in 1974 and 1977, reportedly put on weight to help keep the boat flat in the 30-knot winds. The man will make any sacrifice to win.

In a match-racing event at Kiel, Germany, one rival was less admiring of Conner.

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When New Zealand’s Russell Coutts tried to sail in front of him on port tack, Conner, with the right-of-way on starboard tack, crashed into him. The jury disqualified Coutts and also Conner for failing to avoid a collision.

“Conner is the worst sport I’ve come across,” Coutts told New Zealand Yachting magazine. “Now that I’ve seen how he operates, I am concerned about his possible actions in the next America’s Cup. He is a snake.”

Raul Gardini, head of the Il Moro syndicate, also fired some broadsides at the man New Zealanders call “Big, Bad Dennis,” the sailor they love to hate.

“I know his strengths, but I also know his faults,” Gardini was quoted. “His whole life, his whole world is tied up in the America’s Cup. If that world begins to crumble, we will see the man crumble, also.”

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Then Gardini reloaded for some shots at Bill Koch, the America-3 boss/helmsman--notwithstanding the recent, easy victory by Koch’s Matador-2 in the World Maxi Championship event at Porto Cervo, Italy.

“Koch is a comic figure . . . the weak link in the American defense effort,” Gardini said. “He will never give Conner the necessary competition . . . the match-race preparation he will need to overcome the eventual challenger.”

At least in attacking Koch, Gardini is picking on someone his financial size.

Koch, who fired Larry Klein and saw John Kostecki and Gary Jobson resign, has beefed up his America-3 afterguard again by hiring Dave Dellenbaugh and Kimo Worthington.

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Did Koch decide after losing a 4-1 series to the French in July that he needed help, after all?

Dellenbaugh’s match-racing background should help with tactics and Worthington has extensive experience at the helm of big ocean racers. Dellenbaugh was America-3 co-helmsman Buddy Melges’ tactician on Heart of America at Fremantle in 1986-87.

Meanwhile, Kostecki sailed with Conner aboard Emeraude in the Maxi Worlds series. Kostecki, whose official reason for leaving Koch was to pursue an Olympic Star campaign, passed up the Star North Americans at Chicago to join Conner.

They have sailed together on Emeraude in the past, but does that mean Kostecki is back in the Cup?

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To balance its books, the ACOC was not only “forgiven” a $2 million loan from ACOC President Malin Burnham but got a new one of $500,000 from an anonymous member of the board of directors.

The mystery money man is believed to be Bill Packer, the Philadelphia oilman who backed America II’s campaign in 1986-87. Ehman was director of that syndicate.

Despite complaints about the “Z” reaching legs in the new America’s Cup course creating long, boring parades during the IACC Worlds in May, they won’t be changed for the Cup next year.

“If we had our druthers, we’d make some changes to the course,” ACOC General Manager Tom Ehman said. “But would the syndicates want to do that now? They’ve developed their sails and done a lot of work to prepare for that course.”

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It was hoped the extra mark roundings would create excitement. Instead, the extra marks eliminated tactics by forcing the boats to follow each other.

Ehman added, “A couple of designers and sailors thought the Z-leg was going to be the best thing in the world. But I got what I wanted . . . the downwind finish.”

Koch thinks the Cup will cure insomnia.

“We all thought this was going to be another Olympics or Fremantle,” he told reporters in New York. “It’s not. It’s going to be a well-run yachting race.

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“San Diego has greeted us with a big yawn. San Diego has a lot of other events going on. America has a lot of other things going on.”


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