FREMANTLE, Australia — New Zealand was the big winner and Dennis Conner had a narrow escape Monday in light, erratic winds that had America's Cup challengers at times drifting helplessly on the Indian Ocean.
Chris Dickson's fiberglass KZ7 took sole possession of first place in the trials, beating America II by 12 minutes, 32 seconds. New Zealand again proved it is as much at home in heavy winds as in light winds.
Dickson snapped John Kolius' 15-race win streak to emerge with a 19-1 record and 51 points, five more than America II (18-2), which has lost only to New Zealand.
The tacticians were kept off-balance as wisps of wind fluctuating from four to eight knots moved around the compass from due east to southwest.
At one stage it was feared the races would not be completed within the 5-hour, 10-minute time limit, but late in the day the breeze increased to 12 knots.
Kolius lost when he hoisted a spinnaker just before the second windward mark after a huge wind shift. America II all but stalled, leaving New Zealand to go around the mark, hoist its spinnaker and slip ahead.
"Looking backwards, they were 15 seconds behind and then the next time I turned around they were 15 minutes behind," Dickson said.
Kolius said: "We were caught in a no-man's land. The chute (spinnaker) filled and then things got pretty quiet."
In a near upset, Italy's Azzurra (2-18), led Conner's Stars & Stripes (17-3) over five legs until the San Diego boat passed Azzurra with a series of lee bow tacks on the last beat to win by 37 seconds.
"We didn't have the right sails on," said Conner, who was anticipating heavier winds. "If we had to race the America's Cup in these conditions, we'd be home by Thanksgiving."
In the other races, French Kiss (10-10), beat Newport Beach's Eagle (7-13) by 1:30, Tom Blackaller's USA (13-7) defeated Italia (11-9) by 3:58, Great Britain's White Crusader (13-7) beat Chicago's Heart of America (5-15) by 7:10, and Canada II (8-12) broke a seven-race losing streak by defeating Challenge France (2-18) by 6:02.
Eagle was within 40 seconds of French Kiss at one point but failed to find consistent wind near the end.
USA showed its light-air speed when it overtook the yachts racing in front.
In the defender races, Iain Murray skippered Kookaburra III (11-1) to a 2:25 win over South Australia (2-10), and the older Kookaburra II (9-3) beat Eastern Australia's Steak 'n Kidney (0-12) by 3:25.
Alan Bond's Australia IV (10-2) edged stablemate Australia III (4-8) by five seconds. Australia IV had trailed by almost six minutes at one stage.