Team Conner evens score with America3 AMERICA'S CUP 1995

January 15, 1995|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Sun Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- On Friday, Dennis Conner became the only skipper to lose an America's Cup elimination race to America3, the first all-women's team in the 144-year history of the competition.

Yesterday, he became the first to defeat it.

Sailing Stars and Stripes, Team Dennis Conner's 75-foot International America's Cup Class racer, Conner won the start by three seconds, steadily pulled away and waltzed to an official winning margin of 5 minutes, 47 seconds.

"First off, there was no penalty against us today before the start, like that five-boat penalty on Friday," Bill Trenkle, director of operations for Team Dennis Conner, said yesterday when asked to compare the two races. "In San Diego [with its light winds], it is difficult to make up distance when you start that far behind."

Winds on the 18.55-mile course on the Pacific Ocean off Point Loma started from the north and ranged between 4 and 10 knots as they shifted steadily toward the west.

Conner, who learned to sail while growing up here, had Stars and Stripes going well to windward and leeward in the light, weird conditions, gaining ground throughout the six-leg course.

J. J. Isler, starting helmsman and tactician for America3, said the women's team was in great position just before the start but waited a second too long before breaking to the line.

"But they did a good job of rolling over us when the breeze went right," Isler said. "They then turned that little advantage into a big advantage."

Before America3 caught a rising breeze on the last leg, it trailed Conner by 8 minutes, 43 seconds.

"Even at that, the race really wasn't out of control until that last windward leg," Trenkle said. "But when the wind dropped out on them and we were able to stretch out our lead, obviously the race was over at that point."

Isler, who started very well Friday and well again yesterday, said she found herself looking at her watch frequently as Team Dennis Conner built its lead.

"I was keeping an eye on the time limit, hoping it would run out," Isler said. "But no such luck."

In Friday's race, windward performance had seemed to be a problem for Stars and Stripes, but with the lead yesterday Conner was able to maintain controlling position over America3 and work the wind shifts first as well.

Conner, who chose not to speak with the media after yesterday's race, is sailing a boat built expressly to win the Citizen Cup trials and then to defend the America's Cup.

America3 is sailing a boat built for the 1992 America's Cup, although it has been highly modified.

dTC America3 co-skipper Leslie Egnot, when asked yesterday whether the women's team might have slacked off after Conner built the huge lead, said, "I wish that were the truth. But we were sailing as hard as we could, and there were just no passing lanes."

Seven teams from five nations opened the Louis Vuitton Cup yesterday and the winner of that elimination series will face the top defender in the America's Cup starting May 6.

L America3's winning margin on Friday was 1 minute, 9 seconds.

A popular question here is whether Conner was sandbagging against America3 on Friday. The skipper who has won four America's Cups and lost one, dodged the issue.

But in that first race, Conner's team had fouled the women's team before the start and would have had to race as hard as possible to catch up, showing off his boat's potential to every other team.

This early in a four-month regatta, and with victories in this first round worth only one point, it might simply have been a bad idea for Conner to lay all his cards on the table.

Team Dennis Conner has today off, and America3 will race PACT '95, making a storm-delayed debut in this competition.

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