The Freedom machine ground down another opponent today in what is becoming a lopsided ride to the America's Cup defense for Dennis Conner.
Conner's 12-meter yacht squared off twice against Clipper under sunny skies and gentle breezes in Rhode Island Sound. In the first race, Freedom forced Clipper over the start before the gun and hurried off to an 11-length lead.
The America's Cup selection committee, watching from its observation boat, saw a 24-mile romp emerging and abandoned the race after only three minutes.
The boats went back to the starting sequence. This time Tom Blackaller, who pilots Russell Long's starts, returned the favor, forcing Connor over early. Freedom had to round up and recross the starting line trailing by 21 seconds.
"It was really exciting," said Freedom tailor Mike Toppa of Annapolis. "We got in a tacking duel and just kept grinding them down."
By the windward mark, Freedom was on Clipper's transom, and on the following leg Conner swept by Long and never lost the lead. That race was abandoned when the wind died after three legs, with Conner ahead by 25 seconds. And that was it for racing. Foreign challengers had a lay day.
Conner has yet to lose a race in these final trials, and it seems only a matter of time before the selection committee sends Clipper and Ted Turner's Courageous packing.
No one knows how much time, least of all Conner.
"If they (the committee) think we'll be stronger by letting us continue to race, then that's what we'll do," he said. "When we're so far ahead we don't get much chance to test sails. But we like the racing."
Conner was asked if it might not be to his advantage if Clipper and Courageous were excused, so he could go back to the program that brought him to excellence, his controlled workouts with trial horse Enterprise.
"We could definitely accomplish things with Enterprise in controlled circumstances that we can't accomplish with Freedom and Courageous," he said.
"We've set the pattern for August now, though. We feel good about it."
The results of Freedom's trials with her two American competitors are becoming so predictable it's hard to generate much enthusiasm.
Cannons blast and horns sound when Freedom returns to her dock each day. "We're used to it," said Freedom/Enterprise crewman Dave Sparkuhl. "After all, we've heard it every day."
It seemed a dull day indeed after the fireworks of Friday, when the French and British crews staged one of the most memorable cup races in memory.
The Lionheart-France 3 battle had everything: a collision, three protests, a lead change at the weather mark on a daring tactical maneuver by French skipper Bruno Trouble, and a finish so close that the race committee registered the British winners by "less than a second."
The victory was not final until after midnight. The race committee sifted through evidence on the protests for three hours before disqualifying the French for a violation.
Trouble had claimed the British forced the collision on the second windward leg by "luffing up" into the French boat. English skipper Lawrie Smith said the French were at fault for bearing off the wind and sailing into Lionheart's port bow. "We never changed course," Smith said.
The committee ruled that Lionheart had not changed course and the French had caused the collision, which did no significant damage to either boat.
The series now stands at 3-2 in favor of the French.
They are scheduled to race again Sunday, as are the Australians and Swedes, whose series is tied at 2-2. The foreign boats are in the semifinal round of competition, with two boats to be eliminated in the best-of-seven series and the two winners to vie in a late series for the right to challenge for the cup.