Team Dennis no menace to Young America

January 19, 1995|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Sun Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- Stars and Stripes and Young America raced yesterday for the first time in the defender trials for the America's Cup -- and Team Dennis Conner took a licking, while PACT '95 kept right on ticking.

Young America, PACT '95's entry in the Citizen Cup eliminations, VTC has beaten Team Dennis Conner once and America3, the women's team, twice.

But Dennis Conner, the four-time America's Cup winner, has yet to skipper a loss to the upstarts from Bangor, Maine. Yesterday, Conner turned the helm of Stars and Stripes over to Paul Cayard, and assumed Cayard's role of strategist.

The last time Conner did not skipper a trial or Cup match was aboard Mariner in the 1970s. Conner said the switch was made so that Cayard could "get familiar with" sailing the boat.

On Saturday, Cayard again will be at the helm, because Conner had scheduled a personal appearance elsewhere.

"To win the America's Cup you have to beat the best, and you have to beat the best in May, not now," said Young America skipper Kevin Mahaney, adding that Cayard sailed a good race. "But beating Dennis anytime would be a great thrill."

In the closest race yet in either the challenger or defender trials, Young America appeared to sail higher and faster than Stars and Stripes on all points.

"So much for the reports that Stars and Stripes is a downwind racer," said PACT '95 sailing coach Ron Rosenberg. "Today was their chance to chase a real rocket around the course."

On an 18.55-nautical mile course on the Pacific Ocean off Point Loma, Team Dennis Conner (1-2) challenged Young America (3-0) only twice, on the first downwind leg and on the second beat to weather.

"The team really stepped up to the plate today to win this race," said Rosenberg. "After our problems with the tornado and the wind damage in our first race, I don't think anyone would have thought we would be 3-0, or that win No. 3 would come this easily against Team Dennis Conner."

Although the margin of victory was only 18 seconds, Young America skipper Kevin Mahaney sailed a superior tactical race.

"What we saw today was the kind of close racing that makes the America's Cup exciting," said Conner. "PACT did a nice job of picking the side of the course they wanted and sailed a textbook race."

Young America won the start by four seconds and chose to sail to the left side of the course, forcing Conner to sail right for cleaner air.

At the first crossing of tacks, a third up the leg, Young America had built a lead of two to three boat lengths. By the top of the leg, Conner trailed by 1 minute, 5 seconds.

But while Young America set a smallish spinnaker, Stars and Stripes set the largest chute in its inventory. With the larger sail up, Conner gained on Young America and cut its early lead in half.

Mahaney said that although the call was for a larger spinnaker, a smaller sail was set by mistake. Toward the end of the leg, with Conner gaining, Young America switched to a larger sail.

On the second beat, Young America again took the left of the course while keeping a loose cover on Team Dennis Conner and forcing it to sail mostly on the right side, where the breeze was lighter.

The wind was from the northwest and ranged from 5 to 12 knots.

As the breeze freshened slightly midway up the second windward leg, Cayard initiated a tacking duel, hoping that Young America's crew would falter. It didn't and rounded the mark with a 19-second lead.

Mahaney said that Conner's crew seemed to be tacking more efficiently, but whatever gains it made were offset by Young America's superior mark roundings.

On the second downwind leg, Young America set a spinnaker large enough to match Conner's and managed to hold its lead.

On the last two legs, Young America sailed carefully, and Conner struggled to close the gap.

"This is what sailing is all about," said Conner, who is expected to be Stars and Stripes skipper today, "except that the wrong boat won this race."

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