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AMERICA'S CUP : Notebook : Stars & Stripes Doesn't Miss Beat Sans Conner

November 26, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Dennis Conner was scheduled to return to Fremantle today, dogged by controversy halfway around the world.

Critics thought he was hurting the Sail America effort by going to San Diego between rounds of the America's Cup Challenger trials to check on his drapery business for the second time in a month.

But, according Sandy Purdon, the syndicate's executive administrator, Conner was hardly missed.

"It's no big deal flying home," Purdon said by phone from Fremantle. "We've got enough chiefs down here to sink a ship."

Conner's longtime tactician, Tom Whidden, has taken the crew sailing every day on Stars & Stripes '85 because modifications were being made on S&S '87 to improve its performance in a wider range of conditions.

When Conner isn't around, Purdon said, "Tom is in charge of the boat and I take care of everything on shore. We're not doing things that he needs to be involved in, plus we talk on the phone every day."

Conner has a partner, Frank Trovato, in his drapery business but apparently believes his presence is required periodically.

Gary Jobson, a former America's Cup tactician who has been following the trials as analyst for ESPN, sides with the sailors in Eagle's divided camp.

"I think they're sailing well," Jobson said of the Newport Beach crew. "They're getting everything there is out of that boat."

Gerry Driscoll resigned as the syndicate's director of operations during the second round when the board of directors refused to make crew changes--specifically, replace tactician Doug Rastello. Eagle designer Johan Valentijn agreed with Driscoll and went home to Newport, R.I., although he still works for the syndicate.

"Rastello is a great tactician," Jobson said.

Fremantle is proving dangerous for America's Cup sailors, especially on land.

A few days ago Heart of America skipper Buddy Melges needed stitches to close an elbow wound when he fell off his bicycle after running into a car door that opened suddenly.

Tuesday night Aldo Migliaccio, skipper of Italia, suffered seven broken ribs in a car accident that ended his bid.

Tactician Stefano Roberti, 30, of Rimini, was named the new skipper. Italia is in eighth place after the second round robin.

The New York Yacht Club's America II syndicate will ask Gov. Edward D. DiPrete to help it raise $2 million.

"We have bills piling up that are coming due," said Tom Ehman, head of the syndicate's U.S. operations. "We have an excellent shot at winning this thing and we can't let a lack of money slow us down now."

Ehman said the syndicate is seeking DiPrete's vocal support, not state funds. He said the syndicate has received lucrative offers to hold the races--if America II were to win in Australia--in other cities, including a $3 million offer from Harrah's Casino to hold the races in Atlantic City.

Steve Rosenberg of Long Beach likes Chris Dickson's chances to win the cup.

The New Zealand skipper, only 25 and in his first cup campaign, leads the challenger trials with 22 wins and 1 loss after two rounds. Rosenberg was the only crew member not from New Zealand when Dickson tied for third in the Congressional Cup last March.

"I really think he's going to go all the way, unless he cracks," Rosenberg said. "He's got by far the best crew there, and he's matured a lot in the past year. In the Congressional Cup he gained a lot of experience and showed a lot of poise."

Rosenberg, 23, is doing weekly America's Cup analyses on radio station KLON-FM (88.0) each Thursday at 8:10 a.m. He'll interview Dickson this week.

Dickson, a 470 dinghy sailor, lived in Long Beach from before the '84 Olympics until the summer of '85. He failed to qualify for the Games but stayed in California for big boat experience.

Rosenberg and his brother Ron, 20, are mounting a Flying Dutchman campaign for the '88 Olympics. Between them, they have won 25 national championships in various classes.

Several top America's Cup skippers are expected to compete in the first World Match Racing Championship in August of '88 at Long Beach.

Representatives of five countries met at Long Beach last weekend to pursue plans for the event. The format calls for the automatic inclusion of winners of the world's seven major match races, plus invitations.

A major point of discussion was the International Yacht Racing Union's recent scuttling of most restrictions on advertising and commercial sponsorships. In other words, boats could be racing with corporate logos on their spinnakers and the sponsor's colors on their crew.

"It's being reviewed very carefully," chairman Tom Shadden said. "It will enhance all of the (sailing) events."

He means the money will enhance sailing, which at least in the U.S. is the last bastion of true amateurism. However, they'll draw the line at offering prize money. For now.

Most skippers are using the America's Cup trials break to fix their boats, but USA's Tom Blackaller, 46, got married. The San Francisco helmsman married Christine Gummersbach, 31.

After a short honeymoon, the Blackallers returned to prepare for the third round of racing starting next Tuesday.

USA is tied for fifth place.

Syndicate executive Michael Peck said: "We've got the bare necessities in sails. Based on normal December conditions, we should have what we need."

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