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Downwind legs were supposed to be Kooka's racetrack; however, her only gains on Stars & Stripes were on upwind legs. "We all expected that Kooka would have a downwind advantage," said Murray on Saturday evening, "but today she seemed to have an upwind advantage. I don't know. It wasn't a very fair day and we were often in very much different breeze strengths and directions, so to make any judgment we better wait for a reasonable sea breeze."
The next day Murray got an unreasonable sea breeze, one that started at 22 knots and gusted at times as high as 30, the kind of weather for which Stars & Stripes was made. Peter Gilmour, the aggressive 27-year-old mainsail trimmer who takes the wheel for Kookaburra's pre-start maneuvers, got the better start when, with 50 seconds remaining until the gun, and being squeezed across early by Conner, he wheeled around the committee boat at the right end of the line. At that point Conner bore away and ran down the line to the left end. When the gun went off both boats were already up to speed, but Gilmour was three seconds ahead and had the preferred windward position.
Then Murray took the wheel. If he could prevent Conner from crossing in front of Kooka III, he would then be able to approach the first mark on a starboard tack with the right-of-way. For 14 minutes both boats plunged through lumpy seas toward the left side of the course, but gradually through that long tack Conner inched Stars & Stripes up on the Aussies, first bearing off for speed, then hardening up into the wind for distance toward Murray. Finally, Conner was close enough that Murray, experiencing the distorted air falling off Stars & Stripes's sails, had to tack away onto port, thereby losing two boat lengths that he never retrieved.
Stars & Stripes led by 12 seconds at the first mark. By the second mark the margin was 29 seconds, and by the end of the second beat it was 1:14. The only thing that could have stopped Stars & Stripes after that would have been an exploded main or some other major mishap, a real possibility in such wind. But with a comfortable lead Conner could ease the pressure on his rig by sailing conservatively. Kooka III, which was never again in striking distance, trailed the San Diego boat to the finish line.
Normally a skipper who has lost the first two races of a best-of-seven series would request a lay day. But with lighter winds predicted for Monday, Murray decided to keep sailing. "We're down two and we're going to go for it," he said.
"I think if the wind changes, our fortunes might change with it," added a hopeful Gilmour.
"We've been ahead in the America's Cup 2-0 before, and we didn't like the way that ended up," said a cautious Conner, referring to 1983. "We have two more races to win, and until then we'll stay reserved."
Murray's decision to race on Monday had to be made by 8 p.m. Sunday, when the next day's forecast called for winds from 10 to 15 knots, supposedly Kooka III's kind of weather. Instead, Monday turned up a typical Fremantle summer day with the southwest sea breeze, the Fremantle Doctor (originally called the Fremantle Docker because square riggers waited for it to run them in to the docks), blowing 12 to 18 knots. Gilmour made a contest out of the start, engaging Conner for several minutes of close maneuvering before the boats split tacks and crossed the line dead even. Then Murray took over and, making use of the winds at the lower end of the day's range, held the lead at the first crossing.
After that, however, Stars & Stripes's boat speed began to take its toll. Two-thirds of the way up the first leg, Conner was in front. From a 15-second lead at the first mark, S & S gained time on all legs except the second reach and the last run. "The boat is a friggin' rocket," said Buddy Melges, skipper of Heart of America , the Chicago challenger.
The third race was memorable for two America's Cup firsts: a shark alert before the start (hammerheads had been sighted on Sunday) and a crank who said he had placed a bomb on Kookaburra III. The race committee authorized a chase boat to approach Kooka III during the last leg to offer her crew the option of abandoning yacht. "Our initial response," said Murray, "was to ask what was the bad news." It was the Aussies' only chuckle all day.