Long journey to America's Cup begins with an upset of Conner

January 15, 1992|By ASSOCIAYED PRESS

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- There's still 3 1/2 months of sailing to go before an America's Cup defender is determined. It took only one afternoon for newcomer America3 to show it belongs on the water with Dennis Conner.

Buddy Melges pulled the first upset of the 1992 America's Cup by sailing America3's Defiant to a decisive victory over Conner's Stars & Stripes yesterday in winds ranging from 8 to 12 knots.

Defiant led at every mark on the eight-leg, 22.6-mile course on the Pacific Ocean. Conner twice closed the gap, but Defiant blew away Stars & Stripes at the end of the final upwind leg en route to a winning margin of 1 minute, 34 seconds. The elapsed times was 3 hours, 6 minutes, 13 seconds.

"We were very encouraged by the fact that we seemed competitive on the race course," Melges said. "Bill Koch's way of doing things seems to be working."

Koch, the multimillionaire president of America3, has been criticized by some yachting observers for not appointing a first-string crew. Koch has entered two boats in the trials and was to skipper Jayhawk against Stars & Stripes today. Defiant and Jayhawk oppose each other tomorrow.

"This was only one race of very, very many," Melges said. "The America's Cup was not won or lost or anything today."

The four round-robins lead to a best-of-13 defender finals beginning on April 17. The 28th defense of the America's Cup begins May 9. The challengers begin their trials on Jan. 25.

Conner trailed by 41 seconds heading into the last upwind leg. Defiant appeared to hit a dead spot early in the leg, allowing Stars & Stripes to catch up.

About halfway up the leg, Melges had pushed Conner to the left side of the course, where Conner actually closed the gap. He was unable to take full advantage, and Melges tacked away and laid a perfect line for the mark, rounding it with a lead of 1:10 heading into the final, downwind leg.

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