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AMERICA'S CUP 1987 : Conner's Crew on Stars and Stripes '87 Is American Pie

January 30, 1987|EDITOR'S NOTE: Stories for this special America's Cup section were written by Rich Roberts, Times staff writer, who has been on assignment in Fremantle, Australia, since late November. Roberts, a recreational sailor, has written extensively about the sport and covered all classes of sailing for The Times during the 1984 Olympics. He will report on the final series, along with Times' sports columnist Mike Downey.

FREMANTLE, Australia — America's Cup crews come in all sizes and shapes. With all the jobs on a 12-meter sailboat, one size does not fit all.

Scott Vogel, the bowman and boat captain on Stars & Stripes '87, is 5-8 and 165.

Kyle Smith, a grinder, is 6-5 and 240.

Dennis Conner is . . . expansive.

But there are more subtle differences among the sailors, too. The challenging boat officially represents the San Diego Yacht Club but, in spirit, spans a cross-section of America. There are Southern drawls, New Yawkese, and the Rs misplaced in New England are recovered in California.

Every soul at sea has his own story, and as the Stars & Stripes crew prepared to meet Kookaburra III in the best-of-seven finals, they shared some of their thoughts.

JON WRIGHT, 39, crew manager and mainsail trimmer, Rosemont, Pa.

Wright has sailed with Conner in four America's Cup campaigns, starting in 1974 aboard Courageous when Conner was tactician and starting helmsman.

"Going into '83 I said, 'This is the last time,' because I expected to win," Wright said. "I couldn't sit here and watch this on TV now. I'd be eating my heart out."

Wright tries to help the rest of the crew absorb the experience.

"Every time we went out by that sea wall (in the challenge finals), there were 500 more people there than the day before. I told the guys, 'In the next series they'll be on the roofs.'

"You can describe it to 'em and try to tell 'em how exciting it is, but it really hit 'em when they came in after winning that last race and the whole dock was full of cameras. I don't think they realized what a big media event it was.

"You can see how it affects professional football players when they go to the Super Bowl and they have that week of just constant interviews and press. That's the way it is here right now . . . like you're trying to get everybody's feelings. It's pretty exciting."

Wright started his America's Cup experience as a headsail trimmer.

"The older you are, the further back in the boat you have to get. It took me 13 years to move six inches. I don't think I'll get past the wheels. I tailed in '84, '77, '80 and '83, and I took a look at the sea conditions out here and didn't want to be standing down there to leeward in this stuff."

When John Marshall moved off the boat to coordinate the design program this time, Wright took over the main.

"Trimming the main or jib is really a good job because you actually make the boat go. You have to keep the sails set up where Dennis is pointing the boat. The main is interesting because it has so many controls, and it affects the helm so much. You can bend the mast in six different places.

"You've got an outhaul, inhaul, boom vang, lower runner, permanent backstay, Cunningham, headstay rake, traveler.

"As you tack, to help Dennis get the boat around, you trim the mainsheet in, which tightens the leach and kicks the bow around, and at the same time I pull the traveler up. Then when we come out of the tack I ease the traveler down to relieve helm. Then as the boat comes up to speed you trim the main in and the traveler up at the same time."

Sounds routine, as it would be with any professional.

"I think it was more pressure getting here than it will be in the cup," Wright says. "One thing you don't want to do is to come this far and not get into the cup (finals). To get so close and have it snatched away, like we did to the Kiwis, has to be tough."

SCOTT VOGEL, 26, bowman, Shoreham, N.Y.

His wife Dory is the backup navigator. After the victory over New Zealand, Conner introduced Vogel as "the first man to lose the America's Cup," since he was on the front of the boat when it crossed the line.

"We knew (Australia) had a faster boat," Vogel says. "We thought they might be able to pass us, but we didn't think they'd be able to beat us. You can't go into a race thinking you might lose."

During a brief interview, Vogel's crewmates are heckling him and the reporter.

"Has he (the reporter) asked you how it is sailing with Dennis Conner?"

"No, we did the first question," Vogel says, " 'What was it like to lose in 1983?' "

Although from New York, Vogel never had any doubts about whom he would sail with this time.

"People say New York Yacht Club and San Diego Yacht Club, but it's John Kolius or Dennis Conner," Vogel says. "Kolius has all his boys. For me, it still would have been Dennis."

JAY BROWN, 28, pitman, Annapolis, Md.

There were some hairy moments during the early days of testing and training in Hawaii.

"We had a couple of days when we very nearly sank Liberty," Brown says.

Herb Holland, a crewman since departed, was down below getting a sail to pass up to mastman John Barnitt.

Brown: "Herb said, 'No problem. Look, I've got it right here under the hatch.' He'd floated the sail under the hatch.

"We regularly would go upwind and then bear off and pump for 15 minutes. It got so bad on Liberty, and particularly one instance on Spirit, that the boat was nearly at the point where a boat bears off and just keeps going down, like a submarine."

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