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 controversial fiberglass KZ7 took sole possession of first place in the trials by beating America II by 12 minutes 32 seconds. Once again, the New Zealand boat proved it is just as much at home in hardly any wind as it is in heavy seas.
Dickson snapped John Kolius' 15-race winning streak and emerged with a 19-1 record and 51 points, five more than America II, which has lost only to New Zealand.
The tacticians were kept off balance as wisps of wind fluctuating from 4 to 8 knots moved around the compass from due east to southwest. A boat smart or lucky enough to be in a certain place at a certain time had a large advantage over another only a hundred yards away.
At one stage, it was feared that the races would not be completed within the time limit of 5 hours 10 minutes, but late in the day the breeze rose to 12 knots and the New Zealanders took advantage of every breath.
Kolius lost the race when he hoisted a spinnaker just before the second windward mark after a huge shift in the wind direction. America II all but stalled in the water, leaving the Kiwis to go around the mark, hoist their spinnaker and slip ahead.
"They were 15 seconds behind, and then the next time I turned around they were 15 minutes behind," Dickson said of Kolius and crew.
Kolius said: "We were caught in a no-man's land. The chute (spinnaker) filled and then things got pretty quiet."
Kolius said he knew the situation was bleak when tactician John Bertrand picked up a sandwich.
In a near upset, Italy's Azzurra (2-18) led Conner's Stars & Stripes (17-3) for five legs until the San Diego helmsman passed Azzurra with a series of lee bow tacks on the last beat and won by 37 seconds.
"We didn't have the right sails on," said Conner, who had been anticipating heavier winds. "If we had to race the America's Cup in these conditions, we'd be home by Thanksgiving."
In the other matches, French Kiss (10-10) beat Newport Beach's Eagle (7-13) by 1:30; Tom Blackaller's USA (13-7) crossed the finish line 3:58 ahead of Italia (11-9); Great Britain's White Crusader (13-7) beat Chicago's Heart of America (5-15) by 7:10, and Canada II's fortune finally changed after seven losses as the Canadians (8-12) routed Challenge France (2-18) by 6:02.
In the defender series, Iain Murray skippered Kookaburra III (11-1) to a 2:25 win over South Australia (2-10), and the older Kookaburra II (9-3) pounded Eastern Australia's Steak 'n Kidney (0-12) by 3:25.