The second day of Congressional Cup competition off Long Beach Thursday was the Newport, R.I., nightmare for Dennis Conner all over again--trying to win with a slower boat.
"If I knew the problem, I would have solved it," Conner said with a smile and a shrug after losing to Italy's Mauro Pellaschier and American rival John Kolius by whopping margins of 4:22 and 4:53.
That left him 2-2 and trailing America's Cup campaigners Rod Davis and John Kolius and two-time defending champion Dave Perry (all 3-1). Davis and Perry were 2-0 Thursday.
Conner knew the problem but wouldn't say. Pellaschier (2-2) did say.
"Our mainsail was better," said Pellaschier, who is the skipper for the Aga Khan's America's Cup campaign. "I know. I sailed that boat (in practice)."
For the first time in the 21 years of the Congressional match racing series, the skippers and crews are switching boats each day to further equalize the competition. The boats--all Catalina 38s--are loaned by private owners, who are always interested to find out how their craft perform in the hands of world-class sailors.
Conner's boat, Lady J, worked OK for Ted Turner in Wednesday's winds gusting to 18 knots, but it was Conner's bad luck to draw it for Thursday's 4- to 5-knot wisps when it lacked the sail area to compete.
"It (the mainsail) is a lot smaller," said the boat's owner, Jim Lennox, a freight forwarder from Poway near San Diego. "It's a cruising sail, not really a racing sail. My God, you look up, and what a difference."
Conner may not be pleased with today's boat, either. He drew Pathfinder, which is 0-4 in this series for Jack Gobbell (1-3) and New Zealand's Chris Dickson (1-3) and was 1-8 for Gobbell last year.
But with five races remaining over the next two days, Conner is still within striking distance.
Davis, the Eagle Syndicate skipper, threw the series into a dogfight by beating Kolius, the America II ace, by 1:35 in a textbook tactical race. Davis was in a controlling windward position in an even start, but the lead changed four times because Kolius was faster upwind and Davis quicker downwind.
Conditions were nothing like those two sailors will face at Perth in 1987 when they compete to challenge for the America's Cup.
"But we kind of like these conditions," said Kolius' tactician, John Bertrand.
No, not the John Bertrand who sailed Australia II to victory over Conner's Liberty at Newport in 1983, but the one who won a silver medal in the Olympic Finn class last summer after an agonizing qualifying controversy with Russ Silvestri.
"We fight harder when it's like this," Bertrand said. "It takes a lot more patience."
Kolius led by 38 seconds at the first windward mark, but Davis' tactician, Doug Rastello, said: "Our plan was to stick with him. I think we played it pretty good."
Kolius forced 14 tacks on the last half-mile beat to the finish line, but Davis only stretched his lead by keeping a loose cover.
The best comeback of the day was by the "rookie" entry, John Shadden (2-2), who was forced off the line by Dickson and started 40 seconds behind but won by 5:02.
The biggest upset was Gobbell's 1:03 win over Turner (2-2). Nobody is having more fun than Gobbell and his crew of local longshots from the Huntington Harbour Yacht Club.
At the start, they all donned Turner-type engineer's caps. Then, as they crossed tacks the first time, they tipped them to Turner, and Gobbell yelled: "Hey, y'all have a nice day."
Turner laughed so hard he almost didn't mind losing the race.