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AMERICA'S CUP : Conner Criticized for Fremantle Absences : Panel Says San Diego Skipper's Business Trips Home Have Hurt Sail America's Chances

November 24, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Dennis Conner should decide whether he wants to sell draperies or win back the America's Cup.

So says a panel of experts, which believes that Conner and Alan Bond, the central figures in 1983, will only be spectators for the climax of the current competition off Fremantle, Australia.

The panel, organized by Data General of Australia to evaluate the contenders, not only favors New Zealand's upstart effort to wrest the cup from Australia, but believes that Bond's Australia IV won't get a chance to defend it. The golden-hulled Kookaburra III is dominating the defenders trials.

The experts included 1983 winning skipper John Bertrand, former Australian America's Cup skipper Jock Sturrock, Canadian designer Bruce Kirby, veteran tactician Gary Jobson and several other sailing notables.

They were particularly critical of Conner's absences during the breaks. The San Diego skipper returned home between challenger rounds for the second time to attend to his drapery business and Sail America syndicate fund-raising efforts.

"Though Conner is still clearly the most skilled and experienced helmsman in Fremantle," Sturrock was quoted, "his absence has been reflected in low ratings in the categories of motivation, team spirit and overall administration. This has been reflected in errors on the course."

Jobson, the analyst for ESPN's television coverage, said in Long Beach Sunday: "Every boat undergoes modifications (between rounds) because they're trying to get better and the conditions are changing. You do that based on experience."

Jobson suggested that Sail America missed Conner's input after the first round.

"(Conner) was the only skipper to leave town during those critical periods, (and) the only boat that failed to improve from the first round to the second was Stars & Stripes."

However, Jobson added: "After saying that, I still think he's going to win (the cup)."

New Zealand, Johnson believes, may still fold.

"I think Dennis is going to beat them," he said. "The Kiwis haven't seen pressure yet. They're real good, but they've had a few breaks in their toughest races."

Conner could not be reached for comment.

The panel gave the defenders nod to the Kookaburra campaign and said the same fate that has befallen Conner has occurred with Australia IV.

"Obviously, the new boys have no respect for the experience gained in Newport, R.I., by Conner and Bond," Sturrock said, referring to the 1983 series when Bond's Australia II ended 132 years of American domination of the sport.

Meanwhile, Bond syndicate manager Warren Jones suggested that the South Australian syndicate, with only eight points, and winless Steak 'n Kidney would better serve Australia's chances of successfully defending the trophy by withdrawing. Bond has already withdrawn his secondary boat, Australia III.

"They're not really helping," Jones said.

Jones also suggested that the Kookaburra syndicate follow the Bond syndicate's lead and select its best boat for a long-term, head-to-head confrontation with Australia IV to determine the eventual defender.

America's Cup Notes ESPN analyst Gary Jobson, back in the United States briefly between trial rounds, was in Long Beach Sunday to meet with organizers of the World Match Racing Championship scheduled for that city in August, 1988. That event will feature 10 of the world's top sailors, including the winners of the seven premier match racing competitions around the world. . . . Heart of America skipper Buddy Melges has three stitches in his elbow. He fell off his bike when a car door slammed into it. "We're going to buy him training wheels," said a team spokesman. . . . Members of the international jury overseeing the America's Cup defender series are getting tired of protest hearings that last until the wee hours of the morning. Jury chairman Graeme Owens says that having the hearing 24 hours after the race is giving crews more time to prepare long and involved cases. "We might have to consider having the protest hearings on the same day, even though most hearings would not be able to start until at least 8:30 p.m.," he said. . . . The jury's latest decision was to disqualify Kookaburra II from its victory over Australia IV, moving the latter back into second place at the end of two rounds.

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