FREMANTLE, Australia — Australia III was withdrawn from the America's Cup defender trials, the syndicate announced Friday.
The Alan Bond Syndicate, which also operates Australia IV, said Australia III will not compete in the third round, scheduled to start Dec. 2, and will assume the role of the organization's trial horse, according to Executive Director Warren Jones. The Bond syndicate was the group that guided Australia II to victory in 1983, ending the United States' 132-year reign as keepers of the Cup.
Australia III was in fourth place in the six-yacht defender series with a record of 8-12 and 12 points through the first two rounds.
Jones said the move was "in accordance with our original plans." The syndicate will concentrate on Australia IV in areas such as sailmaking and computer analysis.
Kookaburra III leads the defender series with a 19-1 record and 29 points. Australia IV is second at 14-6 with 20 points, and Kookaburra II is third at 13-7 with 19 points.
Thursday, Kookaburra II's victory over Australia III in the final race of the second round was overturned by an international jury after a 6-hour 30-minute hearing.
The protest against Kookaburra II was lodged by Gordon Lucas, skipper of Australia III. The jury upheld the protest when they ruled Kookaburra II was sailing above her proper course when the two boats were both on starboard tack.
The Australians believe that the competition among the two Kookaburras and Australia IV will produce a battle-hardened defender against the ultimate challenger in February.
"There have never been 12-meter yacht races like (these)," said Bond's project manager, John Longley. "The challengers must be absolutely as nervous as anything, watching the competition.
"The challengers are going to find when they get into racing (the Aussies) that they are in a very uncomfortable position."
Two-time challenging skipper Sir James Hardy thinks Australia will have a better than 50% chance of victory whenever the Cup is sailed in its waters.
"I've felt all along that we don't have to win the America's Cup; (foreign teams) have to beat us to take it away," he said.
Eagle's syndicate, which has laughed at the secrecy of other syndicates, has been mum about its own most recent modifications before the final round of the challenger trials.
A team member told a reporter here that the curtains have been drawn because the modifications are "as radical as you can go" and the syndicate doesn't want other teams to catch on.
Designer Johan Valentijn, however, has never believed secrecy to be important because nobody knows if something new will work until it has been tried in competition.
Valentijn, at home in Newport, R.I., said Eagle's biggest change is that "we're going to put a surfboard on the bottom."
Apparently, he wasn't kidding. The wings are being cut off and replaced by what resembles an elongated surfboard mounted at the bottom of the fin.
Valentijn, who isn't sure how it will work, said: "They are convinced they need to make a big change. I agree they need to make a big change, but not to the boat."
Like Gerry Driscoll, Eagle's former director of operations, Valentijn thinks crew changes would have helped more than a new keel. But when Driscoll's successor, L.J. Edgcomb, and skipper Rod Davis requested the change, Valentijn drew up the plans and sent them off.
"Maybe it'll give them a psychological boost," Valentijn said.
Dennis Conner, who trounced Eagle by 6 minutes 29 seconds in their second-round match, said recently that he has doubts about the morale in the Eagle camp. "When the designer is in Newport, R.I., and the manager quit, what do they think? What chance do they have? When you have (so many) losses (Eagle's record is 8-15), then you know you are slow."
But project specialist Bill Crispin said: "The crew is still up and looking forward to racing in December."
Despite being in ninth place, the crew's spirits have been boosted, Crispin said, by some time off between rounds and a splashy dinner party thrown by Jim Warmington of Irvine, a major financial supporter of the effort.
The crew is still getting new sails and recutting old ones while awaiting the arrival of a new mast ordered after the first round. Dick Deaver of North Sails in Huntington Beach is in here, helping organize an improved sail inventory.
Unfortunately for Eagle, all of this is just playing catchup. The well-heeled syndicates did most of their research and development before the trials started.
Buddy Melges is another skipper with a patient under the blowtorch.
Melges' Heart of America, winner of only 5 of 23 matches in two rounds, has been in the boat yard for alterations to lift her performance in high winds.
Syndicate officials said the wingspan of the keel fins is being extended by about three feet and the ballast moved lower.
As Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes headed out to sea each day, music blaring from loudspeakers on the tender Betsy filled Fremantle Harbor.