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The larger course—the course the various syndicates are taking toward the America's Cup—was harder to assess. The good performances by Italy and New Zealand were expected; they've been in the water for months, and both sailed second-generation boats in the finals. The Italians, once derided as Team Gucci, looked especially deep—as deep as the pockets of syndicate chairman Raul Gardini, who rode across the finish line last Saturday in the guest slot of Cayard's afterguard. A second Italian boat, also named Il Moro di Venezia, took third in the Worlds with John Kolius of the U.S. at the helm.
The New Zealanders, winners of the five-race fleet-racing phase of the Worlds, seemed as well drilled as the Italians. In last Friday's semis, they had a huge lead on Nippon on the last windward leg when a loud bang belowdecks announced a broken chain plate (a vital piece of hardware anchoring the port shroud, which in turn supports the mast). As Davis kept New Zealand on starboard tack to lessen the load on the mast, co-skipper David Barnes and several crew members leaped to action, replacing the shroud with half a dozen lines and halyards tied to anything that looked solid.
"It was no big deal," said crewman Dean Phipps, who carried the makeshift lines up the mast to the second spreader. Actually, it was a very big deal; it saved the Kiwis a mast and the race.
If the two finalists declared themselves front-runners for next year's Cup, the other challengers found the going rougher. Spain sailed at the edge of respectability but broke down too often and finished last. The French finished seventh and said they would like to buy back America, the boat they had sold to Koch's syndicate to train with. The Japanese—well, Dickson is a great match racer, but he must lose something in translation. On Saturday, he lost the consolation race to Kolius when a torn spinnaker got wrapped around the Nippon keel.
The Soviets, meanwhile, are still looking for a place to park. Last week, the U.S. State Department opened militarily sensitive San Diego Harbor and 11 other ports to six former Eastern bloc countries but not to the Soviets, who are being asked to berth their America's Cup yacht, Red Star, in nearby Mission Bay. The Soviets claim that tony Mission Bay is too expensive, although several other syndicates (including France and Japan) are based there. The Soviets briefly considered trying to get around the State Department by registering their yacht with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the bureau that licenses local boats as well as cars and trucks. Instead, the Soviets simply stayed away.
On the defender side, America was an also-ran in the fleet races, but both Stars & Stripes and Jayhawk showed flashes of speed. Conner left everyone in his wake on a couple of windward legs, but he sailed the reaches with old, borrowed sails, which was like running the 100 meters in galoshes. A race on May 7—a hobbyhorse competition in winds as low as three knots—found Stars & Stripes in first place a half mile from the finish line, but the race was canceled when none of the boats in the fleet completed the course within the required four-hour-and-45-minute time limit.
"We all have to respect Dennis Conner and his abilities," said Cayard, "but I'd say at this point the challengers are advantaged."
Koch, meanwhile, gave every indication that he will mount a vigorous and colorful Cup campaign. A tall, freckled fellow with a gentle voice and plush-toy hair, Koch seems guileless enough to host a children's TV show, but his pronouncements arc like the air off Point Loma—light in delivery, heavy in effect.
"I found out early on in this game that if you bring on a lot of hotshot sailors, you end up last," Koch said, explaining how he will pick a skipper from among himself, Cup veterans Jobson, Buddy Melges and Olympic Soling class silver medalist Jon Kostecki. "And yet, you can bring on some mediocre sailors, work as a team, and you can win."
Jobson's wry response: "Thank you, Bill."