When he said farewell to Newport last week Ted Turner had a few sour grape seeds to spit out.

Would he come back and try for another America's Cup Victory?

No. Twelve-meter sailing had become computers and complexities and gobbledygook. It's not sailing, anymore, he said.

Turner is a guy who depends on personal drive, magnetism and shoot-from-the-hip genius to make up for the fact that he has too many things on his mind to be properly prepared for any of them.

At Newport he ran up against his opposite, the best-oiled machine to ever enter this grandest game in yachting. Turner did not have fun being thrashed by Dennis Conner's blue boat Freedom, but when is it ever fun to be beaten?

He couldn't win the game so he said it wasn't a game. He is wrong.

Science has made it small intrusions into this shining world on the water but it remains a test of wits and athletic prowess, first.

On a windy day on Rhode Island Sound, Jack Sutphen, who has sailed racers for decades, handed me the wheel of Enterprise, one of the fastest 12-meters ever built. I did what I thought you do, having been aboard ocean racers and dinghies before.

I ducked down on the leeward side of the cockpit and peered up through the slot between the mainsail and the jib, seeking assurance from the fullness of the sails that I was on a true course, flying perfectly into the wind.

I thought I was doing just fine when Sutphen hailed me. He said I was paying attention to the wrong stuff -- the sails and the compass, which is what sailors have been paying attention to since Hector was a pup.

"Watch the speedo," Sutphen said.

There are digital controls on the modern 12-meter that show boat speed, direction and wind speed over the deck. Then there's a chart.

The chart, Sutphen explained, says that if Enterprise is sailing upwind and wind speed over the deck is 25, she should be doing 9.2 knots. Its all been calculated out by computers and it's an absolute.

If I sail faster than 9.2, it meant I wasn't sailing close enough to the wind. If the speed was less than 9.2 I'd pinched the boat too close to the wind.

"Sail it by the speedo," said Sutphen. In two weeks of tagging along after 12-meter racers and the people who sail them, sailing by the speedo was the only direct indication I had of computer intrusion into the sport as practiced on the water.

Off the water the computer freaks paint with a broader brush, using science and technology to advance concepts in hull design and sail cutting. But on the water it is much the same as it's always been.

Some years back the great sportswriter Red Smith coined a phrase when he said watching 12-meters race was an exciting as watching grass grow. this year he one-upped himself, comparing it to watching paint dry.

Smith obviously has been too often to the Polo Grounds and not often enough to the ballet. Imagine, if you will, a boxing match between two great fighters conducted on a 500-acre sod field instead of in a tiny cancas ring, or a hockey game conducted on frozen Lake Winnepasaukee. The whole lake.

It would be hard to watch, sure. And if the athletes used the advantage of this great space, their direct confrontations would be rare. All that does is make each confrontation much more significant.

Twelve-meters on Rhode Island Sound come together only rarely in a 24.3-mile race. There is a building tension as the two greyhounds of the sea bound toward each other from diverging tacks, and it's often not clear who has the edge until they meet, bow and stern.

At each of these instants therehs a frantic span of activity, when 11 men on each boat respond to a tactical decision. Winches shriek and barrelchested athletes whip sails into trim in a blur of power and speed.

Approaching a mark on the course the bowman races races up the two-footwide, pitching foredeck, balancing by feel alone with no lifeline to hang onto.The spinnaker collapses, the spinnaker pole dips. He grasps the pole, reattaches it and flings it free; the big chute fills for the next track.

On a downwind leg in a race the great yacht Australia loses her mainsail tension. Three crewmen rush to the mast and rig a bosun's chair. They hoist a fourth man to the masthead, where he pitches and sways 90 feet above the deck, lashing the mainsail taut.

The wind in Rhode Island Sound has earned the appelation "the cocktail breeze" for its tendency to spring up in the afternoon, around cocktail hour.

The four foreign challengers to the America's Cup langurously wait for that breeze one day, sailing in and out of the spectator fleet, the crews collapsed on sail bags on deck.

"Does it strike you the same way it does me?" asks a veteran Cup observer.

"There are just a bunch of sailors waiting for a breeze. For all the hoopla, it's just sailing."

These are sights of the American's Cup that are unavoidable to anyone paying attention. It's just plain sailing, advanced to its highest form.

It's not grass growing and it's not computer gobbledygook.