Conner joins NYYC Cup challenge
03.06.2000 - The great survivor of the America's Cup, Dennis Conner, is back with his old club, as SUZANNE McFADDEN reports.
The comeback king of the America's Cup is coming back - hand-in-hand with his old enemy.
Dennis Conner is returning to the 2003 Cup in Auckland after patching up a 17-year feud with the New York Yacht Club.
The two legends of the Cup had a nasty spat and split company after they lost the Auld Mug for the first time in history, to Australia II, in 1983.
But now they have made up - launching a new Stars & Stripes challenge yesterday which will see the old guard up against the new generation of money-men.
Conner, who has been living in New Zealand since the America's Cup regatta ended, had only one comment to make about the alliance.
"I have unfinished business when it comes to the America's Cup," he said.
He also has unfinished business with the New York Yacht Club, which polished the Auld Mug for 132 years.
In 1983, Conner, sailing for New York, believed Australia II's radical winged keel was illegal and the syndicate should have been kicked out of the Cup.
He was not impressed when his own yacht club did not back him up.
"My major mistake in 1983 was not having enough control. The New York Yacht Club pulled all the strings. The sailors were the puppets," he wrote in his autobiography, Comeback.
New York and Conner became "enemies," and the big man went to the San Diego Yacht Club and won the Cup back in 1987.
All the while, Conner has remained a member of the NYYC.
Both New York and Conner, independently, seemed doubtful starters after the last Cup.
New York's entry Young America broke in half and nearly sank and then failed even to make the semifinals of the challenger series.
Conner, who narrowly missed a place in the challenger final, said he would find it hard to raise the money for a regatta on the other side of the world.
But it is understood he will be supported financially by American businessman Dick Scruggs, who was a fervent fan of the Stars & Stripes campaign in Auckland.
Most of the crew from that challenge are expected to stay with Conner, including Tom Whidden, Conner's tactician since 1980.
Whidden said yesterday: "We certainly enjoy winning the Cup.
"We would really love to win it back for the New York Yacht Club."
The commodore of the NYCC, Dooie Isdale, said: "We are pleased that Dennis Conner will be carrying our flag in the next America's Cup.
"No competitior has had a greater impact on the modern America's Cup."
Conner began his career as starting helmsman with Courageous, the New York entry in the 1974 Cup.
He was the skipper of Freedom, which defended the Cup in 1980 before helming Liberty in 1983.
Speculation now centres on the design team for the new syndicate. New York Yacht Club hired Kiwis Bruce Farr and Russell Bowler as their designers for the 2000 America's Cup.
But database software mogul Larry Ellison is strongly believed to have snared Farr and Bowler for his own challenge.
In the last Cup, Conner used Americans John Reichel and Jim Pugh as the core of his design team.
It is not known if they have committed to a challenger yet, although there are many opportunities developing with new big-money teams.
Although the New York Yacht Club had two yachts in the last series, they were sold immediately after the Cup to Prada boss Patrizio Bertelli to alleviate their financial woes.
The new syndicate is expected to build another two new yachts for 2003.
A former test pilot, Australian businessman Michael Jones, yesterday announced an $A60 million challenge from Sydney in competition with six time Cup veteran Syd Fischer.
Among the names being touted are Iain Murray, co-designer of ill-fated oneAustralia in 1995, and vastly experienced sail designer Grant Simmer.
Former Nippon skipper Peter Gilmour has also been linked to the syndicate, although he has been negotiating with Craig McCaw's Seattle syndicate.
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Gina von Esmarch
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Fax: (415) 474-3571
Phone: (415) 474-3425
Fax: (415) 474-3571