COMEBACK My Race for the America's Cup By Dennis Conner with Bruce Stannard St. Martin's. 239 pp. $19.95
It looks as if every America's Cup is going to produce a book by the winner. John Bertrand, skipper of Australia II in 1983, hit the best-seller lists with "Born to Win." Now comes 1987 winner Dennis Conner with "Comeback: My Race for the America's Cup," which couldn't be much more different from its predecessor.
By many knowledgeable accounts, Bertrand's book was nearly fiction -- a glorified, self-aggrandizing soap opera that painted him and his crew as heroes and ignored the fact he had a boat so superior it was literally built to win.
Nonetheless, "Born to Win" was a sleigh ride of a read, emotion-packed, controversial and vibrant. "Comeback," by contrast, is merely a chronology, painstakingly true to the facts but lacking in dramatic flair.
The America's Cup in Western Australia was an event so magical that songs sprang up to celebrate it even before it ended.
You walked the streets and heard people singing: "What goes down, must come up; the Stars & Stripes wants the America's Cup; there ain't no doubt about it, we won't leave Perth without it."
A New Zealand boat called Kiwi Magic struck terror in the fleet for four months.
An Australian, Alan Bond, whose obsession with winning the cup cost him millions of dollars and a decade of his life, fell on his face in his first defense.
The New York Yacht Club slithered away in disgrace, unable to beat even the lowly French in a game the club had controlled for 135 years.
And through it all, Dennis Conner carried revenge in his heart and genius in his scheming.
There was intrigue, champagne in sinful amounts, dancing in the streets, wild winds, raging seas, hot sunshine in February, shrimp as big as your fist, nights lit by the stars in the Southern Cross and, in the end, a sailing story that couldn't have been better if it were fiction.
But Conner evidently was too busy to share in it. Little of the excitement comes across in "Comeback," which he cowrote with Australian journalist Bruce Stannard, and this insider's account adds little to what anyone who followed the event closely in the newspapers already would know.
Conner offers an interesting short history of the modern cup, reflecting on how he lost it to Bertrand in 1983 and why he broke with the New York Yacht Club to mount his own challenge. He then gives a round-by-round account of the Australia adventure that is nearly seamless in its tone.
Of November, when his Stars & Stripes lost four of 11 races, and Conner fell into a purple funk, he writes blandly, "Round Robin II had started out pretty bleak, but ended up rather bright."
Of the moment when the cup was his, he observes: "Naturally it put me over the moon to have won back the Cup that I had lost. I was aware that I had made sporting history, but at the same time I was kind of sad it was over. It had been a tremendous campaign with a lot of good, close friends."
Conner won the cup with an incredible show of riverboat gambler's nerve. Only he had the courage to change his boat radically before the crucial final rounds, and as a result he blew all remaining rivals out of the water.
Yet "Comeback" never explores the decision or the soul-searching that surely accompanied it.
The book's flaw is that it was written while the heat was on and is thus based on Conner's daily reflections while he was still in the crucible of his scheming. Ever prudent, he protects inside information that might have made the book more memorable.
"Comeback" reads the way Conner talks and thinks, right down to the third-person references to himself as "D.C." and "Dennis," his practice in real life. And in its nearly photographic recollections of the racing, it reflects his uncanny ability to remember on-the-water details.
As a glimpse inside this bigger-than-life character, it's no doubt worth the price. But sadly, the glimpse itself isn't bigger than life.
In the end, if you're a sailing fan it's hard to put "Comeback" down anyway. The color pictures may be too small; the drawings too complicated; the prose unremarkable and the talk too technical. But it's all about the sailing event that captured the world's attention, and by and about the character who was the focus of it all.
Angus Phillips covered the last three America's Cups for The Washington Post.