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An Ugly Ending for Ugly America's Cup : Shouting Match Follows Conner's Decisive Second Straight Win

September 10, 1988|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — It started with what was regarded as a hostile challenge and ended in mean and bitter recriminations following two lopsided races.

So much for the Acrimonious Cup, an ugly successor to the glorious spectacle that was the America's Cup off Fremantle, Australia, only 19 months earlier.

The only similarity was that Dennis Conner again sailed a gunsmoke-blue Stars & Stripes boat for the San Diego Yacht Club, except this time it was a catamaran--to Cup purists a twin-hulled abomination with an airplane wing for a sail that finished off New Zealand's massive monohull with the old 1-2 in the best-of-three series.

The race was close for about 15 minutes, but Conner, sailing conservatively as he had in Wednesday's first race, steadily stretched out to win by 21 minutes 10 seconds--about 4 1/2 miles on the 39-mile triangular course.

That non-competitive affair hardly set the tone for what happened when the principals gathered for the post-race press conference Friday night.

A brief, sportsmanlike exchange of pleasantries quickly disintegrated, and all of the animosity of the past 14 months since Michael Fay issued his challenge exploded on the stage.

As several hundred reporters scribbled notes, Conner and Stars & Stripes design chief John Marshall on one side, and Fay and New Zealand designer Bruce Farr on the other turned up the heat of a rivalry they were unable to settle on the water.

Marshall said the big boat wasn't just slower than the catamaran but was a slow boat, period.

Then, as it broke up and New Zealand skipper David Barnes shook hands with Conner, Farr stepped across them and said to Marshall, "You're a liar."

Conner said to Farr, "You little . . . you're a loser. Get out of here."

Quickly, a Stars & Stripes security man stepped between them and escorted Farr off the stage.

Oddly, early in the press conference Conner seemed conciliatory and indicated he found the attitudes of the event distasteful.

"The sailors have never really shared any of the controversy or bitterness," he said.

"I would like to acknowledge how much respect we have for the New Zealand sailors. I think they were good sports and they sailed their boat well. I look forward to seeing David and his New Zealand crew in the next Cup, hopefully under more pleasant circumstances."

Asked how he rated his third America's Cup victory (he also was aboard Courageous in 1974 as starting helmsman and tactician) against the others, Conner was low-key.

"It would be hard to say this was one of the most exciting or most pleasant or most rewarding. We had a job to do and did it. We're just a small bit player here. It wasn't something we wanted to do or feel particularly great about. I'm just relieved it's done."

Fay, seated at the far end, then was asked to restate his determination to protest the catamaran back to the New York State Supreme Court, after which Conner pulled a letter from his pocket.

"While we're politicking here, Michael . . . "

Fay said, "I haven't started politicking yet, Dennis."

Conner read the letter Fay wrote to the SDYC on July 23, 1987, extolling the virtues of big boats.

Conner: "I'd like to suggest that's what you challenged us with, and that's what we responded with."

Fay: "I think, Dennis, I was describing a monohull, not a catamaran."

Conner: "It doesn't say anything about monohull or catamaran, Michael."

Fay: "Did you pick up the first letter on July 23 or did you pick one up on July 17?"

Conner: "I'm just a carpet salesman, Michael."

Fay: "OK, I'll tell you about the one on July 17. Remember it said . . . 'keel yacht.' That's the boat we challenged with."

With the tone set, Marshall picked it up.

"The America's Cup should represent the highest level of technology and performance in our sport," Marshall said. "I think this match lacked a challenger that represented, in fact, the highest level of technology.

"If it was a mismatch, it was because the challenging yacht was not fast. I know we've been asked to match her, and it's ridiculous to ask myself or any designer to match a yacht that's not fast."

A few seats away, Farr winced.

Conner, mimicking archrival Tom Blackaller at Fremantle, said: "Whoops, I wouldn't have said that."

Then Farr said, "If John Marshall thought the New Zealand boat was not a particularly fast boat, then why didn't he match it with a similar boat that was faster? The reason was that Sail America couldn't do that and had to find some other way of beating the New Zealand boat.

"Apparently, John Marshall thinks that the high point of technology is 12 meters.

"I find it quite disturbing that the gentlemen on my right, who are supposedly professionals in their work, can sit in a press conference and tell lies. That really troubles me.

"None of the other designers who have criticized the boat--particularly those representing the people on my right--have had the guts to come out and design one to race against us. Until they do that, we're the fastest 90-foot waterline boat in the world."

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