After Il Moro evened the series at 3-3 on April 28, the Kiwi command staff panicked. Syndicate manager Peter Blake, tired of watching Cayard control nearly every start, replaced skipper Rod Davis and tactician David Barnes with Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth. Coutts enjoyed a reputation for being more aggressive than Davis, particularly at the start of a race. The hope was that Coutts would throw Cayard off-guard.
That prospect amused Il Moro's strategist, Tommaso Chieffi. " Paul Cayard is a very strong personality," said Chieffi. "There was a little surprise to see Coutts instead of Davis, but we didn't get particularly excited about it."
Indeed, when Cayard saw that his old friend and rival, Davis, had been replaced, he smelled blood. "I read that as a major weakness," Cayard said. "Imagine the meetings they must have had to make that change. Imagine the disruption."
Coutts had skippered New Zealand only twice in competition before the pivotal seventh race on April 29, and it showed. The Coutts-Butterworth team made several significant errors, yet lost the race by only 20 seconds. Facing elimination, the New Zealanders came back with Coutts at the helm last Thursday. Cayard beat Coutts to the starting line by five seconds and won the 20.03-nauticalmile race by 1:33, gaining for Italy a first-time berth in the America's Cup final. "I don't think anyone will ever realize how good the Italian team is," says Hopkins. "Mainly, all we've gotten credit for is having a big budget and giving good parties. That's a very perilous attitude to have, and New Zealand paid dearly for it. Now we'll see how the Americans handle that."
The answer was not long in coming. "Our technology is better than the Italian technology," says Koch. "I've raced Paul Cayard a number of times and won; Paul doesn't scare us."
Koch should have learned his lesson about underestimating an opponent. Once smug about the ease with which his four-boat campaign would trounce Conner's one-boat effort, Koch had been force-fed about $65 million worth of humble pie since the defender trials began in mid-January. "Before, when I said we'd beat the socks off Conner, we had our socks handed to us," Koch said after America finally eliminated Stars & Stripes. The Wichita, Kans., oil company heir added, "The Kansa Indians have a saying that the greatness of your tribe is determined by the greatness of your enemy. We feel Dennis Conner is probably the greatest sailor that's ever been."
He certainly seemed to be after tying the series 4-4 on April 28, Conner's third win in a row in the five-to eight-knot winds and flat seas that Stars & Stripes favors. Suddenly, the tune being sung by the Koch camp was You and Me Against the World. Everyone in San Diego, it seemed, was pulling for Conner. Koch complained that upon returning to port, America had been pelted by apple cores and greeted by raised middle fingers. "We've spent a fortune in this town, and they're thumbing their noses at us," Koch fumed. "On the other hand, it's brought our group together and given us a fortresslike mentality."
Conner's momentum was quelled in the ninth race of the defender series, after the America crew recut the boat's sails overnight and made some other as-yet-undisclosed adjustments to improve her upwind performance. It worked. On the third leg, Conner watched as America rocketed past, and said, "Man, that's beautiful. I'm telling you, he's just so fast. There's nothing I can do." Then he added a classic Conner dig: "It's amazing they could ever lose a race in that boat." America won the race by a margin of 1:08.
Stars & Stripes lost the last two races in bigger winds by 1:43 and 5:08, the latter a distance so great that Koch told co helmsman Buddy Melges that he could no longer read the advertisements on Conner's sails. Docs Koch believe, then, that the America's Cup will remain in San Diego? "You bet your ass it will," he says.
Kiwi skipper Davis disagrees, predicting a resounding win for the Italian boat in the best-of-seven final. "I haven't decided if it will be 4-1 or 4-love," he told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "But I think it'll be a pretty good thrashing."