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America's Cup Trials : Kookaburra Team Hoping to Shut Out Bond's Boat

January 05, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

FREMANTLE, Australia — The cackle of the Kookaburra is heard these days not only in the jarrah forests but along the docks where this nation is attempting to select the defender of the America's Cup.

The twin, golden-hulled Kookaburra boats have Australia IV in a death grip that will be broken only if the Alan Bond 12-meter beats one of them over the next two days.

The Kookaburras' tag team sailing already has put their flagship, Kookaburra III, in the best-of-nine defender finals starting Jan. 14. Now all of the Taskforce 87 syndicate's resources will be concentrated on getting backup Kookaburra II alongside, shutting out the team that won the cup in 1983.

"Obviously, we're concerned," Bond syndicate executive director Warren Jones said Sunday. "There are only two races to go and we must win one of them."

Kookaburra III and Australia IV each picked up 6 points Sunday--KIII for its concessionary win over Kookaburra II and AIV for its default from the departed Steak'n Kidney--to remain tied with 71 points. KII has 64.

Since KIII also will receive an automatic six points for not racing Steak'n Kidney today, it is assured of reaching the finals. KII gets its free six Tuesday when KIII meets AIV.

The evidence for weeks has been that the Kookaburras were trying to manipulate the scoring, first to boost KIII into a strong position, then to lift KII into contention.

The Kookaburras' have admitted a monopoly final is their goal but have denied trading favors to arrange it, all the while sailing some patently suspicious races. Sunday the dockside wisdom had it that it was KII's turn to win, since it was down in points.

Jones, hoping to upset the scheme, had offered in a television interview to bet $5,000 that KII would beat KIII.

"If Kookaburra II doesn't win today, I'm the next Pope," he said.

Jones might as well have taken a vow of poverty. The Kookaburras had a different scenario in mind.

Shrewdly, they figured they could place KIII safely in the defender finals by beating KII Sunday, then go all out to clobber AIV with KII on Tuesday and KIII on Wednesday.

Today's race between Australia IV and Kookaburra II was abandoned immediately after it started because of strong winds.

The wind was blowing at 27 knots and there were reports of 35 knots at the windward mark three miles away. The race committee said such conditions were "unsuitable for a fair test of sailing."

The race was rescheduled for Tuesday. Failing an AIV sweep, the Kookas could still select which boat to advance in the final. If they think KII is now faster, they could withdraw KIII, but the committee says they must do so before KIII races AIV Wednesday.

KII has a better record than KIII recently and had beaten its stablemate three in a row, after losing the first six matches despite leading in every one.

Sunday, the boats circled routinely before the start until KII suddenly broke away and sailed deep below the line as KIII sent a crewman part-way up the mast to repair a main sail problem. But KIII kept moving at speed and was off 15 seconds in front, as if KII was giving it a head start.

Jones: "When they have a man up the mast and win the start so comprehensively, well, I think that could have been done with a little more finesse."

Dr. Stan Reid, past commodore of the Royal Perth Yacht Club which is supervising the defender trials, said with a straight face that the start seemed in order to him.

"There are far more subtle ways to lose a yacht race," Reid said.

As the winds built from 24 to a wild 27 knots Sunday, KIII continued to stretch its lead at every mark. The margin was 3:24 around the last leeward buoy, and then KII's headsail ripped, costing it another 5:35 to an 8:57 difference at the finish.

"Remarkable the amount of speed they found in 48 hours," Jones said, deadpanned.

The Kookaburras were not represented at the press conference. KIII skipper Iain Murray was invited but declined.

Syndicate spokesman Tim Flynn said later that he didn't know whether Murray would displace regular KII skipper Peter Gilmour today, as he has done in other races, or whether both would be aboard.

"That's a good question," Flynn said. "A very good question. They won't decide that until this morning."

Considering KII's penchant for protests and the fact that AIV has lost three protests to KII in the past week, AIV skipper Colin Beashel would be expected to approach today's race with caution.

"I'm quietly confident that we can go out there and do the job," said Beashel, who was mainsheet trimmer on Australia II in '83. "I always try to avoid any incident out there. I've never tried to set up an incident."

The defenders' trials have been sailed more aggressively than the challengers' trials, but Beashel said he won't change his style.

"Not at all. We sail the boat hard every day. If an incident happens on the race course, the jury is going to have to decide. We go out to race hard but properly."

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