The Australians have a down-home phrase for "all or nothing." They say they're heading "for Sidney or the bush."
Today the pretty white yatch Australia picked her course and thundered straight for the obsurity of the bush. She was routed on the high seas in her high-stakes bid to upset the U.S. yacht Freedom in the first race of the final series of the 24th America's Cup.
Freedom crossed the finish line in a cacophony of blaring horns, almost two minutes ahead of the challenger. She'd taken lead early and convincingly and spent most of the day building on it in 24.3 miles of match racing.
Australia's skipper, a millionaire winemaker Jim Hardy, a veteran of two past unsuccessful Cup campaigns, couldn't have ordered conditions more suited to his plan.
Balmy east winds rippled Newport Harbor when Hardy and his crew put to sea. For the last week the Aussies have been professing that they were praying only for mild weather, which would benefit a radical new mast and rigging they installed last week.
Today they got their wish but it meant nothing in the face of another flawless, machine-like performance by the yacht the U.S. selected to defend the Cup it won in 1851 and has never lost since.
Australia and Freedom led a procession of at least 300 and perhaps 500 boats, from skiffs to a Navy destroyer, out to the America's Cup buoy in Rhode Island Sound for the start of the best-of-seven series that will end this long summer of 12-meter racing.
Australia and Freedom went through their ritual circling dance behind the starting line after the 10-minute warning gun sounded. Then, with the east wind holding steady at 10-12 knots and the spectator fleet bathed in cool sunshine, Freedom's skipper Dennis Conner bore away from Australia with a minute left before the start, tossing away an apparent advantage.
They crossed the line well apart, with Australia first by five seconds.
Within five minutes the painful truth was established for Australia. In conditions she would have chosen as ideal, she was sailing slower and less close to the wind than her sleek blue rival.
Airplanes and helicopters buzzed over the yachts like gnats at a crowded beach, and Conner slowly and inexorably drew his boat away from the white-hulled challenger from across the globe.
There are six legs to an America's Cup race. At the buoy marking the end of the first leg, Freedom pulled away to a 52-second lead; by the next mark she led by 1 minute 33 seconds.
At the second buoy, with the breeze freshening and shifting to the south, Freedom switched spinnakers in the twinkling of an eye and widened the gap still more.
When the two boats rounded the third mark Freedom was up by 1:48 at the fourth buoy she led by 2:14; she was ahead by 2:17 when they rounded the fifth mark.
Freedom's final margin was less convincing than the victory actually was.
"Dennis won't beat 'em to bad," said Annapolis sailmaker Jim Allsopp, who was a crewman aboard Clipper in its unsuccessful bid to defend the Cup.
"You watch," Allsopp said, "he'll slow the boat down if he gets too far ahead. He did it against us in the trials. He always likes to hold something in reserve."
The defeat was doubly crushing to the Australians because it knocked their desperate hopes for their new bendy mast into a cocked hat. The challengers installed the fiberglass-topped spar 10 days ago, with the idea that it would provide an unbeatable edge in light and moderate breezes.
Because it bends, the mast permits use of a larger mainsail than Freedom can carry. The Aussies expected to romp when the winds were light enough to allow them to carry some 200 square feet of extra mainsail aloft.
The breezes were light enough today, never topping about 15 knots, but the top of the Australian mast appearedto bow under the pressure of the big sail and the main never took on a sleek, aerodynamic shape.
As soon as they returned to port the Australians piloted their yatch to the mast-removing dock at Newport Offshore Shipyard, where a crane was waiting to pull the 90-foot spar for the fourth time since it was installed.
Australian syndicate manager Alan Bond said minor repairs to a spreader were needed, adding there was no plan to scrape the mast and replace it with a conventional aluminum mast.
The Aussies asked for lay day Wednesday to complete repairs and to practice downwind speed maneuvers. Racing will resume Thursday.
Hardy was deft and complete in his praise for Conner's handling of Freedom. "Dennis really placed the boat well in the light, fickle wind at the start, said the gentlemanly Hardy.
He said Australia showed signs of good upwind speed but lacked the drive he had hoped for off the wind.
But clearly the message on this first day of racing was that regardless of the conditions Freedom will offer no quarter. She was sudden and serious in delivering that message to Australia.