With the Americans ahead 3-1, Alan Bond, the multimillionaire head of Australia II's syndicate, must have had visions of the Cup slipping from his grasp; he had already failed in three previous challenges. "How's it looking?" he said. "It's like looking down the barrel of a shotgun. We're just going to go out and sail the race tomorrow. There's nothing else we can do."
Race 5 the next day was a melodrama in three acts. The wind from the south was blowing around 20 knots, and the seas were heavy as the boats reached the course. Approximately an hour before the start, Liberty broke her left jumper strut, a shroud-bearing metal arm about 70 feet up the 80-foot mast that controls the bend in the mast's top section and provides its support. Calls for a spare jumper, seizing wire and a hacksaw were radioed to Liberty's shore base and to her nearby support vessels as two crewmen, pit man Tom Rich and bowman Scott Vogel, were hoisted up the mast in bosun's chairs. There they spent the next 35 minutes rocking as if attached to the arm of a giant metronome while they hacked away the old jumper and replaced it with the spare that had been delivered to Liberty from shore. Two minutes before the 10-minute gun, the repair job was finished. One of the crewmen was lowered to the deck, and with the other still up the mast, Liberty was towed to the starting line at a 12-knot clip. Two minutes into the prestart maneuvers, however, Liberty still did not have her jib up. Her foredeck crew had torn the luff tape, which connects the sail to the fore-stay, of the preferred genoa and had to go below and break out another slightly smaller sail. That was Act I.
Act II began with Liberty being forced toward the starting line by Australia II. Two minutes before the gun, it looked as if the Aussies would force Liberty across the line early. But with 45 seconds to go, Conner escaped the trap. He tacked down the line away from Australia II, leaving Bertrand jammed against the buoy end of the line with too much time and too little distance. As Australia II's bow slid across the line a few seconds early, Conner was off. Bertrand had to jibe around and start over with an apparently devastating 37-second deficit. The radio announcers broadcasting live to Australia from the press boat could scarcely believe what they were seeing. Bruce Stannard, reporting for the Australian Broadcasting Company, might have been describing the sinking of the Titanic. "My God!" he cried. "The race is over now. It is absolutely disastrous for Australia II. All the hopes and dreams of Australia sink with this start." Curtain.
Act III: Four minutes up the first leg, Liberty's jumper strut broke again. Rich went up the mast, but this time the repair had to be made with Kevlar sail ties and duct tape. Conner fared all right for the rest of the race on starboard tack, but the masthead fell off to leeward when Liberty was on port tack, and, because the top of the mast could have snapped, he had to be somewhat cautious. Thus, the Australians, wasting no sympathy, led by 23 seconds at the first mark, 1:11 at the fourth and 1:47 at the finish. Meanwhile, the Australian broadcasters, who had earlier been plunged to the depths of despair, now rose to dizzying heights of elation. "Wake the dog, wake the children!" one of them shouted to his weary audience back home, an audience that had stayed up all night to listen. "This is the greatest moment in the history of Australian sport! Australia II is the only Australian challenger to win two races in an America's Cup, and more than that is the way she has done it." The last time any challenger had won two races was in 1934, when Great Britain's Endeavour met Harold Vanderbilt's Rainbow.
Down 3-2 the Australians were not yet off the hook, but a subtle shift had occurred. Now the pressure was on Liberty. The Aussies had already scaled a significant peak in winning twice. Liberty, on the other hand, was facing failure of increasing dimension. She had already lost once by a larger margin than any defender had since the 12-meter era began in 1958. If she lost even one more race, she would have more defeats than any U.S. boat in the 132-year history of the America's Cup.
That kind of pressure may have told on Conner in Race 6. Again he beat Bertrand at the start, this time by seven seconds. But then, 18 minutes up the first leg, after crossing Australia II's bow and then tacking back to sit on her wind, Conner sailed off on a long tack to the right, allowing Australia II to proceed unattended on the left side of the course for eight minutes. During that time the wind shifted dramatically to the south, and a wind line came down the course from which Australia II, on the left, benefited and Liberty, on the right, didn't. When they crossed again, Australia II had a huge lead, and by the windward mark she was ahead by an astounding 2:29. "Yes, we were surprised," said Bertrand after the race, "but Dennis was obviously playing the wind shifts as we were, and he figured, I assume, that they were going to the right. We were happy to be going to the left from the signs we could see on the water."
As he approached the fourth mark at the end of the second windward leg and trailing by more than three minutes, Conner made a desperate move to save the day. With Australia II already around the mark and headed downwind on a spinnaker run and Liberty still beating to windward. Conner took off on starboard tack to intercept Australia II and possibly, since he had the right of way, force contact and foul her out of the race. But Bertrand saw Conner coming, changed course to avoid him and won by 3:25.
"In yacht racing," said Bond huffily, "there are things done and things not done. That isn't done in yacht racing as far as we're concerned."
"The only chance we had of beating them was to foul them out," said Tom Whidden, Liberty's tactician. "I have a feeling they thought that was illegal, but it's not, as long as you don't alter course to seek them out. There's a rule against that. In team-racing rules you can't go off the leg that you're on and go on another leg to get a guy. But in match racing or fleet racing you can do it."
Bond called for a lay day on Friday, which gave everybody a chance to savor the historic significance and high drama that would be the seventh and last race, scheduled for Saturday. Lexcen, meanwhile, was the Australian observer at the remeasuring of Liberty. The remeasuring was required because the brain trust of the Liberty syndicate decided to remove almost 1,000 pounds of her ballast in an effort to make the boat faster in the light air that was predicted for Saturday—and that is Australia II's favorite wind condition. "We decided to soup up a little for light air because we were hopelessly outdone by them in it," said Whidden.