- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The game changed, though, when the round-robins gave way to the best-of-seven series of the challenger semis and finals, which is what Stars & Stripes's designers, David Pedrick, Britton Chance and Bruce Nelson, had in mind: a Fremantle boat, one good enough to survive the round-robins but one that would be at her best when the summer winds began to blow during the challenger finals and the Cup itself. Now the all-around boat was up against a heavy-weather specialist, and with the wind known as the Fremantle Doctor blowing full strength more often than not, the chances of Stars & Stripes finding four days to her liking out of a possible seven were fairly good.
"I can tell you we had our hearts in our mouths in November," said John Marshall, Conner's design coordinator. "The optimum Fremantle boat could easily lose a round-robin series. But it's hard to lose a four-out-of-seven series with that boat, if she's truly optimum, because each race is against the same opponent. Then the weather statistics come into play in your favor instead of against you."
At the 10-minute gun before the start of Race 1, normally the beginning of a maritime minuet of circles and counter circles, Conner set off on a reaching beeline for the spectator fleet. There he stayed, steering his 55,000-pound blue canoe in and out among the bobbing vessels, as he avoided encounters with the more maneuverable New Zealand.
At the start Stars & Stripes crossed three seconds ahead, but Dickson had the favored left end of the line. (In theory the starling line is perpendicular to an imaginary straight line to the first mark. In practice, the line is often slightly skewed, making one end closer to the first mark, thus "favored.")
Four minutes into the race, Cornier tacked to starboard and crossed Dickson's bow with half a boat length to spare. Bruce Kirby, the designer of Canada II, who was watching the race from a spectator boat, leaned back, folded his hands and said, "Chris Dickson has just realized he is not going to win the America's Cup."
When the boats next came together, 16 minutes later, they were dead even, and Conner, unable to cross, tacked onto starboard on a lee bow position; that is, downwind of New Zealand with his stern even with Dickson's bow. From that spot Stars & Stripes's "exhaust," the air spilling from the edges of her sails, affected the flow of New Zealand's air, and Dickson was forced to tack away for clear air.
Conner continued on starboard until he caught a favorable shift, and when the boats came together for a third time he crossed Dickson's bow a boat length in the lead. From that point Conner was in control, and Stars & Stripes led around the first mark by 15 seconds. By the finish he had stretched that lead to 1:20.
The changes that Marshall and the designers of Stars & Stripes had come up with in December—new winglets, a new rudder, a new skin of microscopically ribbed plastic sheets, plus some good sails handed over by the defunct America II syndicate—had, collectively, improved the boat's upwind speed by some six seconds a mile in winds of 18 knots and up. All Conner had to do was stay clear of tacking duels, use his superior straight-line speed to get to the first mark first, and pray to Hughie (not even the Almighty escapes an Aussie nickname) for high winds and some luck.
Stars & Stripes led at the first mark in all five races of the Vuitton Cup final. Three of them she won easily: The first, a textbook race with no gimmicks, no breakdowns and near-perfect crew work on both sides, she won by 1:20; the second, a close copy of the first, she won by 1:36; and the fourth, when New Zealand endured multiple gear failures in 28-knot winds, she won by 3:38. In that fourth race Stars & Stripes had a sizable lead when New Zealand began coming unglued, so it is fair to assume the Americans would have won anyway. In the final race Stars & Stripes led by 42 seconds at the first mark and by 1:29 at the finish, but nobody called that one easy. "Thirteen years' beat 13 months' experience," said a chastened Dickson.
Only the third race, the one Conner lost, was touched with Kiwi magic. That morning a dozen Maori men in war paint danced and chanted a haka on the Kiwi jetty, waggling their tongues menacingly, as Maori warriors are wont to do, while an airplane trailed the message IF ANYONE CAN, A KIWI CAN overhead and several thousand New Zealanders (some 40,000 make their homes in Perth) cheered.