When the 12-meter yacht Freedom prepared for sea today, the crew carried lunches out to the dock in two red coolers.One was marked "The Good Yacht." The other was marked "Freedom."

"The Good Yacht" sandwiches went aboard a boat called Enterprise.

Today was an off-day for Freedom, the vessel favored to win the right to defend the cup against a foreign challenger next month. Atypically, skipper Dennis Conner actually took the day off, nursing a sore throat that has bothered him for three days.

But Freedom went out sea, anyway, for sail testing, and along with her went her constant companion since the day she was launched 1 1/2 years ago, Enterprise.

According to crewman Donn McAfee. Enterprise is destined to be " the greatest yacht no one has ever heard of."

And her crew will be even less heralded.

Yet to a man, the people of the Enterprise/Freedom syndicate claim it's "the good yacht" that has given Freedom its winning edge.

"When we started out we didn't know which of the two boats Dennis would pick," said Jack Sutphen, the 60-year-old, windburned skipper of Enterprise. "We set up a schedule. First he'd take Enterprise and make her as fast as he thought she could go.

"Then he'd get in Freedom and try tomake her faster. When he did that he'd go back in Enterprise and start all over again."

It took several months of that beforeFreedom, the new boat, convinced Conner it was the better of the two. Even today, a year later, the people who sail on Enterprise have their doubts.

"They let us win every cup but the one that counts," muttered John McGowan, who has been with Enterprisesince the beginning.

Indeed, three times Enterpise has gone head-to-head with 12 meters that are battling for the America's Cup this year. Last winter she beat Freedom in two of three races to take the California Cup. This summer she defeated France III, Sverige and Intrepid to take the Rhode Island Governor's Cup Here.

A week later she took on Courageous,Clipper, Freedom and Intrepid and swept by all four to take the Caritis Cup.

Why isn't this speedy yacht racing for all the marbles?

Enterprise is one of the cornerstonesin Conner's complicate, unbending plan to win the Cup. She is his control boat, which means she runs fast and constant to give Conner something to run faster than.

"None of us has any doubt that Dennis could take this boat and win the Cup over Clipper or Courageous," said Sutphen.

But instead she's stuck in steerage. Today, with a howling 20-knot breeze blowing, Sutphen took a rider along to show how it works.

"Get the spinnaker out," he shouted when the two yachts cleared Newport harbor. Freedom's crew wanted to test spinnakers.

"Which one?" asked Enterprise bowman John Sparkman, grinning. "Wait a minute," he mused, "I think Iknow."

Enterprise had only one spinnaker on board; whichever one Freedom didn't want, "Second-hand Rose, that'sus," said Sutphen.

enterprise's unknown crew popped the colorful chute perfectly and bore off downwind. Freedom came right behind with a new spinnaker to test. She didn't last long on that leg.

"We saw a little rip in the chute," said Freedom's skipper for the day, Tom Whidden. "When we went to haul it down, it exploded."

One spinnaker down, and Enterprise still galloping.

Later, on an upwind leg, Sutphen handed the helm over to his visitor. It was an incredible feeling, handling this great greyhound of the sea through a 20-knot northeaster, the seas boiling up under the belly of her huge genoa jib. She held her own again against Freedom.

It was a short session. Freedom's crew calling a halt early for fear they might break some gear they'd need for Thursday's racing against Courageous.

Enterprise scudded home in a choppy sea while Freedom rode back in style -- under tow from her tender.

And the crew of Enterprise enjoyed lunch from the cooler marked "The Good Yacht."

Close to half the Enterprise crew had been aboard for the entire duration of the 1 1/2-year assault on the Cup.

The men who operate this "second-class" yacht are mostly younger than the veterans aboard Freedom. Sutphen says that is the whole idea -- to train a new generation of 12-meter racers.

He maintained that the young athletes have held up under the strain of pursuing a quest that has no conclusion.

"They do have hope," said Sutphen." Look at Mike Toppa."

Toppa, an Annapolis sailmaker, got a shot to sail on Freedom last week after a year on Enterprise. He replaced Whidden, who tore tendons in his foot in an accident.

A temporary relacement?

"Depends what happens to Whidden," said the youngster."The doctors might let him sail. Then again, they might amputate.

"Wait a minute," he said, laughing. "Don't write that down . . . "