Ted Turner had flawlessly skippered Courageous to a 1-minute 48-second victory over Australia in the opening race of the 23d challenge for the America's Cup, and now the celebrated "Mouth of the South" was seated before a mircrophone at the official postmortem, puffing on a cigar.

Journalists from several continents had submitted written questions because, in yachting, unlike games played on land, queries have to be channeled through a moderator, who deems them fit for asking.

Turner, 38, the good old boy from Georgia whose other sporting endeavors include owning the Atlanta Braves of major league baseball and the Atlanta Hawks of professional basketball, forthrightly answered most of the questions directed to him. But he couldn't resist a dig or two.

The consensus was that the race had been decided in the first five minutes. Turner making a better choice of sails for the wind (125 knots from the southwest) and sea conditions that prevailed at the start than did his Australian counterpart, Noel Robins.

Turner had just explained that he had used four jibs, ranging from five to nine counces, as well as two spinmakers during the race. He cited as critical a rapid change of jib just after the start, when the breeze lessened.

What weight sail did he go to? asked the moderator, the only inquisitor permitted to speak instead of write.

"We started with the seven ounce, went to five when it was lighter and nine when it was heavier." Turner said with a grin. "Even guys from Cleveland, Ohio, can understand that."

Later it was pointed out that Stan Musial, the former St. Louis Cardinals star, was abroad one of the some 525 craft in the spectator fleet that watched the race in Rhode Island, eight miles off Brenton Reef. Turner was asked if Bowie Kuhn, the baseball commissioner who suspended him for contract tampering earlier this year, also was watching.

"He isn't here yet, but he might be. He's been invited. I hope he comes, and somebody pushes him in," he added quickly, a glint in his eye. "He talked about coming, but it's going to take a lot of courage."

Turner's outspokeness and irreverent sense of humor-even when he is on his best behavior as the representative of the Cup holder of 126 years, the New York Yacht Club-is going to make this America's Cup fun, even if a serious challenge to the American defense is lacking as usual.

The gun starting the latest of four straight Australian challenges for yachtings premier prize sounded at 12:10 today and within five minutes the experts declared that Courageous' had the first of the best-of-seven series wrapped up.

It took 3 hours 27 minutes 59 seconds for Courageous to complet the triangular 24.3 nautical mile course, but once Turner surged into the lead early in the first windward leg he didn't make any mistakes and never let Australia get within 10 lengths, which translates to about one minute. The challenger finished some 300 yards astern.

Turner abided by the cardinal rule of match racing: get the lead and don't foul up; stay between your opponent and the next mark. "We wanted to match Australia tack for tack and not let it get away from us," he said. "We were tacking mainly to cover her moves.

Australia was first across the starting line. 12 seconds before the gun sounded, and 12 seconds before Courageous, but that "lead" was insignificant because the boats were on different tacks, and Courageious' starboard tack was the most advantageous one.

Courageous, whose 11-man crew is close-knit and executes its tactics superbly, quickly slipped past Australia, which Robins candidly admitted was flying the wrong sails. "We were using sails for choppier water than we had. That's the long and short of it," he said.

Robins compounded that miscalculation with the only major tactical blunder of the race. Australia tacked instead of sailing through, and Courageous swooped into the lead it never relinquished.

By the time Courageous rounded the first mark and hoisted its green and white spinnaker for the first of two reaching legs, she had a 1:08 advantage. At the second mark it was 1:16, and at the third 1:23.

Australia did cut the margin to 1:12 after the second windward leg, but Courageous increased it to 1:18 while running leeward to the fifth mark and to 1:48 at the finish, against the heaviest weather of the race. The wind was 17 knots at the finish.