FREMANTLE, Australia — Apparently, Dennis Conner had a point.
The San Diego sailor had been saying all week that the stronger the wind, the faster his boat--Stars & Stripes--would be, and he proved it Thursday when he beat America II by 1 minute 31 seconds in winds up to 26 knots on the final day of the second round of the America's Cup challenger trials.
Conner was beaten by Britain's White Crusader and Canada II in unseasonally light air earlier in the week, but Stars & Stripes led at every mark Thursday.
Conner, the man who lost the America's Cup to Australia in 1983, moved back to third overall, back within striking distance of first-place New Zealand and second-place America II.
Afterward, a more confident Conner left for home to attend to his drapery business and to help raise more funds for the Sail America syndicate.
Tom Whidden, his longtime tactician, said: "We know we're vulnerable in light winds, but we believe Stars & Stripes will perform as expected in heavier weather."
The winds off Fremantle usually are strongest in December, when the Australian summer arrives.
The wind hasn't mattered much to Chris Dickson, the 25-year-old New Zealand skipper who went through the second round unbeaten.
"We don't expect to win every race in the third round but we're confident in our abilities," Dickson said.
Dickson said his syndicate was planning some changes to KZ7, the only fiberglass boat among a fleet of aluminum challengers.
"Every boat will be changed in the third series," he said.
Malin Burnham, the Sail America syndicate president, said that as far as he and Conner were concerned, the controversy about the construction of KZ7 was over.
"We plan no further action," Burnham said.
Even so, the top four boats after three rounds are scheduled to be inspected before entering the semifinals after Christmas.
Tom Blackaller, skipper of San Francisco's USA, said the first two series were interesting but relatively unimportant because wins were worth only one and five points each. Wins in the third round, starting Dec. 2, will be worth 12 points.
Thursday's races were delayed for 90 minutes while America II corrected a mainsail halyard problem and French Kiss replaced a boom before defeating White Crusader by 4:25. Because of the delay, the course was shortened from 24.5 to 18 miles.
New Zealand completed an 11-race sweep of the second round with a resounding 9:27 victory over Challenge France, which went 0-11 in the round. New Zealand is 22-1 overall.
French Kiss, eighth after the first round, moved up to fourth place, one point behind Stars & Stripes, with its victory over White Crusader, which lost time to retrieve an overboard crewman and replace a torn spinnaker.
America's Cup Notes In the defender trials, skipper Iain Murray again switched from Kookaburra III to the helm of backup boat Kookaburra II and handed Australia IV an embarrassing 1:41 defeat. Peter Gilmour moved aboard Kookaburra III and trounced Australia III, the world 12-meter champion, by 2:01. The double defeat was another blow to Alan Bond's syndicate, which wrested the America's Cup from the United States in 1983. . . . The defenders will take today off before starting the final round-robin of their second series.
The troubled Eagle, whose syndicate appears undismayed by a string of defeats, lack of funds and dissension, plans to pursue its quest of the America's Cup into the third round of challenger trials next month. "There's no doubt," syndicate executive John Griffith said in Newport Beach. "We expect that the modifications we're going to make will improve the boat substantially." Johan Valentijn, who designed the 12-meter, said he didn't think any further changes were necessary. The keel was lightened and a larger rudder added after the first round, but Eagle is still in ninth place, just where it was a month ago. "Well, you know, people need to blame something," Valentijn said by phone from his home in Newport, R.I. "They don't want to change anybody on the boat, so they're going to change the boat." Griffith: "You never get a designer who thinks anything's wrong with the design." Eagle completed the second round Thursday by losing to Canada II by 1 minute 32 seconds and finished with a 4-7 record in the second round after a 4-8 performance in the first.