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America's Cup Trials : There Are Few Secrets in Fremantle

January 12, 1987|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

FREMANTLE, Australia — Long before the 12-meters came, this waterfront town was an Allied submarine base during World War II, and some of the same security measures remain in force.

The America's Cup syndicates' shore facilities are enclosed by high fences and locked gates, and armed guards check everyone in and out.

When the boats return to the dock, their keels are shrouded before they are lifted out of the water into enclosed pens, just like submarines.

They might as well prop them up on display on the Esplanade Preserve at high noon and sell tickets. Secrets suffer a terrible mortality rate in this town.

Today challenger final rivals Dennis Conner of San Diego and Chris Dickson of New Zealand were discussing changes made to their boats between the semifinals and their best-of-seven series that starts Tuesday.

Conner said his Stars & Stripes team hadn't done much, except to add "about two inches to the tiplets on our wings."

Dickson piped up: "I think Dennis forgot to add he's got a different rudder, as well."

Conner: "I thought I could slip that by him."

A few minutes later Conner was asked about future technological improvements he might make.

"We're having a press conference at 11 (a.m.) and I wouldn't want to pre-empt the guys that are handling that," he said.

Dickson: "Maybe I could answer that one for him.

"They've got a little bit of a plastic boat themselves . . . a plastic coating they've come up with from 3M, (consisting of) plastic sheets of about three foot by one foot. There are little V-shaped grooves in it."

Dickson glanced at Conner. "But it's not for me to get too specific," he said.

Conner: "Thank you very much."

Score a couple of points for Dickson, who had established the paradox of Conner sailing a "plastic" boat, after all of the uproar he has created about New Zealand's fiberglass craft.

Dickson knew all about Conner's modifications because his father Roy, the New Zealand syndicate's operations director, had taken a close look as the rivals' representative during this morning's routine remeasurement in the Royal Perth Yacht Club pen.

He paid special attention to the glued-on plastic sheets with their tiny grooved "riblets" similar to those in phonograph records, designed to reduce drag.

Of course, Conner's people saw KZ7, also, but apparently detected no dramatic changes other than those Dickson revealed: A lighter mast, "slightly more ballast, slightly more sail and therefore a slightly more stable and faster boat."

New Zealand has won 37 of its 38 races, including the last 28. Stars & Stripes has won 31 of 38 but showed marked improvement in its 4-0 victory against San Francisco's USA in the semifinals.

Australian bookmakers favor Conner at 2-1 to win the cup, followed by Australia IV, 9-4; New Zealand, 5-2, and Kookaburra III, 3-1.

A poll of journalists favored Conner over Dickson, 30 to 13, with a consensus that he would win in seven races. Only two expect Conner to win in four straight, and only one picked Dickson to sweep.

People around Conner's camp don't think it will take very long, although they lost two of three races to New Zealand during the trial rounds.

"Tom Blackaller had beaten us two out of three, also," Conner said.

He swept Blackaller's USA in the semifinals, while Dickson, the U-boat personna of this event, torpedoed French Kiss with equal ease.

Dickson said: "Stars & Stripes has been saying they have only eight races left, (meaning) four against us and four against the Australian defender.

"I'd like to go on record, there's no possible way Stars & Stripes is going to beat the Kiwis four-zip. We don't think they're going to beat the Kiwis at all."

Furthermore, Dickson countered the general opinion that while KZ7 is more maneuverable, Stars & Stripes is faster.

"The fact is that KZ7 has been around the track (the triangular race course) three times faster than Stars & Stripes has in its fastest race," Dickson said. "Stars & Stripes is not a faster boat. KZ7 is."

Dickson also said that he isn't worried about a Saran-wrapped Stars & Stripes because "they also used it in the third round-robin, so we've already beaten them with the plastic covering on it."

Stars & Stripes is the only 12-meter using the 3M sheets, although Dickson said that New Zealand studied, tested and rejected many similar products. The United States' cox-and-four rowing team had the stuff on its scull when it won a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics.

John Marshall, Stars & Stripes' design team coordinator, said use of the sheets involves "no violation of the patent prescription of the 12-meter rules."

Michael Fay, the New Zealand syndicate chairman, said there won't be a reverse-"glassgate" dispute.

"We won't be protesting the 3M coating," Fay said.

Both sides also said they hoped to avoid the barrage of protests that have bogged down that defender trials and leave the outcome to the sailors.

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