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Conner, Kiwis Come Up Short : America's Cup: Comparative course lengths are questioned after Koch, Italy win.


SAN DIEGO — Bill Koch says the America's Cup challengers' race course is shorter than the defenders' track, over which he has been beating Dennis Conner the last two days, but it wasn't short enough for New Zealand Monday.

"It was about four boat lengths too long," Kiwi skipper Rod Davis said.

During the drive to the finish, Il Moro di Venezia skipper Paul Cayard coaxed his boat past Davis' boat to win by one second--the difference being that his white spinnaker was bellied one meter farther out in front than Davis' smaller red gennaker.

That evened the best-of-nine defender finals at 1-1. It wasn't the closest race in Cup history; during the challenger trials at Fremantle, Australia in 1986, England's White Crusader and Canada II finished within the same official second, the nod going to the British in a photo finish.

But it duplicated New Zealand's edge over Il Moro during the semifinals April 2--a victory stripped from the Kiwis when officials said they touched the buoy at one end of the line.

New Zealand led through the first six legs, with its mirrors full of Il Moro all the way. The Italians took the lead by dipping and ducking the Kiwis' stern by inches and driving through their lee to clear air, forcing New Zealand to tack away.

The boats never were more than 19 seconds--less than three boat lengths--apart at any mark of the 20.03-nautical mile course--or however long it is.

Koch raised that question Monday after sailing his America 3 away from Conner's Stars & Stripes by 1:47 for a 2-0 lead in the defenders' best-of-13 finals.

The finals are being conducted by separate race committees on separate courses west of Point Loma, and it has been noted that the challengers have sailed their course 4 1/2 and 10 1/2 minutes faster the first two days, suggesting that they have faster boats.

The courses are supposed to be the same, but Koch said: "The distance that the challengers race is not the same as the distance the defenders race, and I can tell you that with a high degree of certainty."

He should know. Koch has the best electronic tracking gear money can buy, including the same Global Positioning System (GPS) the committees use to place the inflatable buoys within a few feet of where they are supposed to be each day.

Told of Koch's theory, Cayard said, tongue in cheek: "I'd say it's probably true. The defenders are much faster than us, and we'll just be hanging on the best we can (in the Cup match next month) . . . just happy to be participating. Probably some more fine work from the good ship Guzzini."

The reference was to Koch's spy boat, which has dogged the challengers to distraction the last few months.

Conner downplayed the whole point, noting that even if the boats were sailing the same courses, the times are meaningless because of such variables as wind, currents and waves.

All Conner knows is that it doesn't matter whether Stars & Stripes is slower than the challengers if it's slower than America 3, which it appears to be.

As in Sunday's race, sailed in slightly lighter wind conditions, Stars & Stripes was competitive early in the race, but lost distance on every leg until America 3 sailed out of reach on the off-wind legs.

Conner had one moment when America 3 helmsman Buddy Melges went for his fake tack, giving Conner starboard-side control, but he couldn't make it stick.

"It's possible that Bill has done a nice job with America 3 in speeding her up in the conditions where we used to be more even," Conner said. "I think there's some chance that we're more competitive now when it's windy. We have have to have those conditions to find out.

"It's possible that the (America 3) boat is more tender now (worse in strong wind). It's still a long way from being over."

The beleaguered America's Cup Organizing Committee was dealt a $176,898 blow when a Los Angeles flight service was allowed to attach its assets.

San Diego County Superior Court granted a writ of attachment allowing E.J. Helicopters to tie up ACOC assets to ensure the award is paid, said Charles Harris, attorney for the flight service.

E.J. Helicopters had been retained to furnish aircraft for televising the Cup and has claimed that the ACOC owes it money after terminating its contract. The flight company said the ACOC terminated the $1.05-million contract without just cause.

Material from the Associated Press is included in this story.

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