Ted Turner and Dennis Conner raced head to head for the first time today in the initial round of the America's Cup campaign.
Turner's 12-meter yacht, Courageous, which won the Cup series in 1977, and Conner's Freedom the blue boat that is expected to battle furiously for the right to race this time, jibbed and tacked over seas confused by shifting winds.
When they were done the results were as uncertain as the breezes and the seas -- a tie, one race for Turner, one for Conner.
It was a square-off long awaited by followers of this, the premier event in yacht racing. In the year and two months since Freedom was launched she never has raced against Courageous. The two skippers have kept studiously apart.
Today they came together, and the only thing they proved is that the racing is likely to be keen all summer.
Turner took the first duel, gaining a slight edge at the start in 12-knot northwest winds and holding on through five legs of racing.
The boats took opposite tacks at the starting line, with Turner crossing the line first. When they tacked over and crossed paths on the way to the first marker buoy he was in the lead. He lengthened his advantage of 23 seconds by the time he passed the mark 2 1/2 miles upwind.
The defending Cup holder held off Conner through four more legs, dipping at one point to an 11-second lead but extending the edge to 1 minute 25 seconds by the end of the 11-mile course.
The second race went the other way, with Conner gaining the edge by one-half a boat length at the start. Turner, trailing and sailing in foul air washing off Conner's sails, initiated a tacking duel on the first leg.
Each of the 16 times Turner came through the wind and set a new course Conner tacked too, staving him off. Conner led by 36 seconds as they rounded the first mark, 20 seconds at the second buoy and he extended his edge to 59 seconds on the final leg of the shortened 7 1/2-mile course.
What did it prove?
"We're kind of pleased," said Marty O'Meara, Turner's operation manager and a veteran 12-meter sailer. "We did okay in the box score. The most significant thing to us is their lack of superiority. Freedom is just another 12-meter. What would have been significant is if they had hammered us.
"We raced in heavy air, which is supposed to be Freedom's strength. So we win the first race in heavy air. We had shifty winds in the second race and never really had a chance to attack."
Added Turner, who hurried from the dock after his yacht was put away: "It's too early to tell. The wind was shifty. I didn't really expect anything.
"I was just curious to see what (conner's) 250 days of sailing would do for him and the $2 1/2 million they spent. Spending $1,000 a day for two years is interesting.
"I just want to see more racing. Don't you?"
Conner conceded he had been the benefactor of at least two helpful wind shifts in the second contest.
"It's hard to judge too much in westerly (offshore) winds," the 36-year-old Californian said. "They're very unpredictable. The wind is all over the lot and who ever gets the lead gets to call the shots. Ted did a great job in the first race and we couldn't catch him. We were lucky and got the start the second time."
Freedom and Courageous, considered the favorites for the one defender's slot in the Cup races in September, competed today by the luck of the draw.
Because there are three U.S. entries, and since all America's Cup meetings are match races, two boats head to head, one of the fleet must sit out each of the trials. The skippers gathered Friday night to draw straws for the pairing. Russell Long and his yacht Clipper were the odd ones out.
On Sunday, Turner goes against Long, a 24-year-old heir to the Reynolds tobacco fortune.
Surprises are not expected, since Turner and Long have been practicing together all spring, Turner winning the lion's share.
On Monday, Freedom and Clipper will meet for the first time.