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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.

"We have not had one debilitating breakdown," Trenkle says, "just a couple little things but nothing's that's slowed us down in a race.

"We practiced breaking stuff in Hawaii. The boats we started sailing in Hawaii were set up (for) Newport (R.I.). We learned the headboard systems had to be changed and the vangs had to be beefed up.

"We learned we'd better have pretty good waterproofing or we were gonna sink. We turned Spirit into a 13-meter . . . had a big lead shoe at the bottom of her to try to make her competitive for crew training. The weight increased the stability but sank her deeper, as well.

"That boat had the old-style hatches that slid aft, and when the waves hit they'd get pushed back and the water would come in. The tailers' pits weren't enclosed, and the pit behind the mast wasn't enclosed. We started filling up the boat."

On this day, Trenkle's mates are teasing him about a picture in the paper of New Zealand skipper Chris Dickson with Sarah Fulcher, the San Diego blonde who ran across Australia.

"I was dating her for a while," Trenkle says, ignoring them.

"This is the Super Bowl for us. I was on Freedom, the trial horse, last time (in '83). When I talk to people back in the States, it's surprising to hear how much information they're getting. It's good, because this is what I do full time. I make my living doing this.

"When I'm not doing America's Cup I work for private owners on ocean racing boats. It doesn't pay great, but the more it gets to be publicized the more chance it will turn professional eventually, and there'll be more money in it for me.

"I get a little tired of traveling. I don't have any roots right now. My parents live on Long Island. As I became more involved, my engineering became more practical for me to use. They knew I was making a living and doing what I wanted to do."

Suddenly, with increased TV coverage of the cup, a lot of people know what he does.

"It didn't really hit me until I was speaking to my parents," Trenkle says. "They were saying, 'We saw you.' They used to try to pick me out of these small pictures. 'Oh, there's Billy.' So it's kind of neat. People are more aware that there are 11 people on the boat. Otherwise, all they know is Dennis. It seems like more of a team, and not just Dennis and 10 other guys. I think people can appreciate what goes into sailing the boats."

JOHN BARNITT, 24, mastman, Minneapolis

Barnitt was aboard Liberty in '83.

"The nice thing about this time is that we're the challenger," he says. "It was really fun to sail against the Italians, the French, the Kiwis and the English."

But sailing was only part of the preparation. For Barnitt, a former defensive end, the Stars & Stripes' program started out like a pro football training camp.

"We were removed from everything in Hawaii for a year and a half," Barnitt says. "We lived in a very tall condominium out in the middle of nowhere. That was good. We had a lot of work to do. It was definitely a testing time for men and boats.

"I lived in a two-bedroom apartment with four other guys, and we were all big guys. You couldn't live in our place unless you were over 6-4 and 220 pounds. We got on quite well.

"I shared a room with the other mastman for a while. We thought that whoever could do the job better would be better for the boat, as long as we knew the best person in our country was doing it.

"The big thing is to work together as a team all the time, and in these windy conditions you need two big, strong grinders who are smart and agile, but they have to have help.

"Our moves are choreographed. The timing is very important. You don't realize it unless we switch the crews around and you have to talk about things more.

"A good jibe is when I can trip the pole and then get back to the handles and help square back the pole. Having Scotty (Vogel) pulling the tacking line helps a great deal. He gets that sail to clear the shrouds, and the four of us can bang it in that much easier. When the five of us work together and get through 131 tacks in a day, we get a passing grade from Dennis for that."

After the Cup, Barnitt says, "I'll have to get a job. Try to get an ocean racing boat to run.

"These programs are fantastic, but it's a donation of time. I'll have to get back on my feet financially. I should probably worry about my future more than I do. I don't want to be pulling up jibs for D.C. when I'm 40."

KYLE SMITH, 31, starboard grinder, New Orleans

This is Smith's third America's Cup campaign with Conner. His wife Karen is the team's exercise physiologist.

"I had my doubts about coming back," he says. "It's a long road to get here, but we lost it and I wanted to win it back, and I figured Dennis would be the guy to do it.

"Since '83 I'd gotten married and figured I'd stay home. The work and demands involved in a cup campaign are enormous. Can you imagine training for more than a year and a half just for the trials? It's like having football practice for a year and a half and never playing a game.

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