There were tears in the eyes of a few faithful who saw Courageous off from her dock this morning.

Rumors were flying all weekend: TedTurner's great yacht, the defending America's Cup champion, would get the ax on Monday.

At 5 o'clock this sultry afternoon she came back under tow by her tender. Turner was in the cockpit, sipping a beer. Tactician Gary Jobson, leaning on a shroud, looked up at the throng on the docks. He raised a fist, then gave the thumbs-down sign.

Trailing Courageous to her berth wasHatterascal, the motor yacht of the America's Cup election committee. Aboard were seven men, identically dressed in Breton red trousers, blue blazers and straw hats. The formality was completed when Robert McCullough, committee chairman, stepped off Hatterascal, leaned across the floating pier and thanked Ted Turner for his trouble.

In the stuffy, formal parlance of America's Cup tradition, Courageous had been excused from these final trials to select a U.S. defender for the Cup.

Jobson's wife, Janice, perched on a high pier with tears in her eyes, called out, "Three cheers for the men of Courageous."

And then it was over, leaving only Clipper, the newest boat, and Dennis Conner's seemingly invincible Freedom to compete.

Clipper's tactician and sometimes helsman, Tom Blackaller, greeted Turner. "We who are about to die salute you," he said, smiling.

Courageous has had a horrible summer.In three months of racing here she beat Freedom only once -- the firstday they raced in June. She finished the three-way June-July trials with a 7-20 won-lost record and had won only one race -- against Clipper --in the August final trials.

Today she was defeated soundly again by Freedom in her last day of racing.

The sleek, white Courageous had won the Cup in 1974 under Ted Hood and in 1977 under Turner.

Today her string ran out. Turner, waving farewell as the committee boat sped off after the five-minute ceremony, shouted to McCullough, "I'm sure the Cup is safe."

In a brief press conference on the dock a dry-eyed Turner dismissed the defeat. "It's not that big a deal," hesaid. "We certainly spurred our competition to new heights. No one hasever mounted the kind of campaign our competition (Freedom) has. We played a pat hand and we couldn't win with it."

Turner's camp is bitter that the Freedom syndicate devoted 1 1/2 years and more than $2 million to winning the right to defend the Cup, far more time and money than Courageous was willing to expend.

But Turner showed no bitterness today. "With the time we had, we put up as good a fight as we could. I'm 100 percent behind the committee. Their timing was excellent."

He said he had no intention of seeking the Cup again. "It's turned into complexities, computers and all that other gobbledygook. That just doesn't appeal to me. It's like working in a science lab instead of sailing."

Was he as well prepared as he could have been?

"Absolutely not," thundered Turner. "We could have started in September of 1977. But we wouldn't have been able to do anything else . . ."

The Courageous troubles were huge. She broke her mast July 23 and replaced it with a spare. On Aug. 8 that mast was twisted and ruined in a collision with Clipper. Turner had toborrow Clipper's spare mast and was still using that inadequate substitute today, with sails that had been cut for other spars.

His boat was marginal from the start,and got progressively slower.

Today, he said, Courageous is for sale.

"It wasn't an even competition," saidTurner, "but we're the ones who made it uneven."

Then Turner gathered up his wife Jane and the Jobsons and set off along America's Cup Way for his familiar daily uphill walk to Courageous' rented digs at Salve Regina College.

The people cheered him all along the way.

Clipper and Freedom now will hammer at each other head to head for the final berth. The odds are almost prohibitively with Freedom, which has lost only twice to Clipper in almost 30outings.

The four foreign challengers are downto the wire as well. On Tuesday both semifinal challenge series could beresolved. France III leads her best-of-seven series with Britian's Lionheart, 32. If she wins Tuesday the Britons go home. If Britain wins there will be a deciding race Wednesday or Thursday.

The Australians and Swedes are tied, 2-2. Their race Tuesday is a sudden-death affair.The rules state that if no boat has won four races by the scheduled end of the series, which is Tuesday, whichever one is ahead at that time is the winner.

The two foreign winners square off Aug. 29 in the final series to select a challenger. The U.S. selection committee can name the American boat whenever it sees fit to do so.