"Stars & Stripes isn't spectacular in anything," says Conner, who's rumored to be unhappy with his boat speed. "But it's not a dog in anything cither. They're a little quicker than we are downwind, we're a little quicker than they are upwind. You've got to love the one you're with. You can't be in love with Christie Brinkley, because you're not with her."
Words to live by. Over the years, of course, Conner's skill as a helmsman has made up for a lot of the failings of his boats, but in this regatta he has been letting Paul Cayard do most of the steering. The 36-year-old Cayard, from San Francisco, was skipper of Italy's 1992 America's Cup finalist, Il Moro di Venezia. "I got him because he was like Deion Sanders." says Conner. "He was the best athlete available. I'd have been remiss not to sign him and figure out how to use him later."
Cayard is capable of flashes of brilliance during the critical prestart maneuvering, when many races are won and lost, but he also has moments of sheer boneheadedness. He effectively lost one race in the fourth defenders' round, for example, when he brought Stars & Stripes into the prestart area earlier than the five-minute limit allowed, a blunder that cost his boat a 270-degree penalty turn. "Sometimes your starting pitcher gets nailed a little bit more at the start of the season," says Conner, who plucks sports analogies out of the air like a toad catches flies. "I know Paul's got talent. I've got a game plan, and I'm going to stick to it."
All of which makes for a strange situation on Stars & Stripes: a generational changing of the afterguard, with the old lion staring over young Simba's shoulder. "I'm surprised Dennis pulled himself off the helm," says Robert Hopkins, Young America's navigator. "If Dennis is on the boat, he might as well steer it. What else is he good for? But we've only seen him steer when we're way, way ahead."
That may change, of course, now that the exhibition season has ended. But whoever's at the helm of Stars & Stripes will have his hands full against Mahaney—a silver medalist in the Soling class in the 1992 Olympics—and his tactician, 30-year-old John Kostecki, whose can-do attitude has come to symbolize the spirit behind Young America. "They don't sail by the textbook," says Marshall. "They take some big chances and have more of a loose and free-form style. The established rock stars in the sport are ready to be supplanted by the next generation."
It's too early to say if he's right, for the real racing is about to begin—with cutthroat tactics, mystery keels, high-tech sails and who knows what other surprises the syndicates have been holding up their sleeves. As sailors aboard the surviving oneAustralia shout when tacking: "Look out below!"