"We sailed," said Ben Lexcen, designer of and tactician aboard the yacht Australia, "like a bunch of dumb asses. We only beat them because our bloody boat was faster than theirs."

The boat Australia beat was Freedom, which was supposed to have been the best prepared, the most prohibitively favored U.S. 12-meter to defend the America's Cup in modern times.

On Friday, Freedom became instead the fourth U.S. boat to lose an America's Cup race since 1958. Australia beat her by 28 seconds, evening the best-of-seven series, 1-1.

"Sure, their boat bailed them out yesterday. They handed it (the race) to us a couple of times," said Ton Whidden, a Freedom crewman.

But Freedom couldn't take it.

Dennis Conner, Freedom's skipper, commented pithily, "They weren't slow."

The mood around the Freedom camp today was guarded; crew and project officials seemed intent on not panicking.

"I don't think the Cup is in jeopardy," said Whitten.

"What we're doing now is avoiding changing what we know is good," said John Marshall, Freedom's sail trimmer. "We can't build a new mast, that's obvious."

Australia sailed away from Freedom twice Friday, passing the blue American boat on the first leg after losing the start and again after giving away the lead late in the race.

She got her edge in winds under eight knots because of her new, bendy mast, built in secrecy and installed on the boat a week before the final series began, and a new, huge Mylar/Kevlar combination mainsail hoisted Friday for the first time.

Australia is lighter and carries more sail than Freedom. It appears today that she will be able to battle hammer and tongs with the defender whenever the breezes are under 10 knots.

With that in mind, the Freedom camp called for a lay day today. "Our weather information indicated that Sunday would be windier," Connor said. But Rhode Island Sound was laced with whitecaps today and it appeared Freedom had missed a good chance to race in stiff breezes.

Freedom's people maintain they are cnfident their yacht will carry them to strong victories when winds exceed 10 knots. "We've never been a light-air boat," said Ed duMoulin, project manager.

Now that Australia has shown clearly what she can do in light air, tactical guesswork begins to play a major role in the upcoming races. Freedom will try to use her two remaining lay days to avoid racing in slack conditions; Australia will seek to circumvent heavy air.

The advantage, given the nature of September weather in New England, should lie with the Americans.

But a long stretch of gentle weather is not impossible in these climes and times and lay days are permitted only one at a time. There cannot be a lay day after a lay day.

In a wide-ranging discourse on the state of affairs in the Freedom camp today, Whidden, the 32-year-old president of Sobstad Sails, described problems and prospects.

"One of our problems is that Australia seems to be able to sail a little higher (closer to the wind) than we can. We're not used to that. We're used to pointing higher than Clipper and Courageous (Freedom's foes in the U.S. trials. We're finding that disconcerting."

Also, Whidden said, "The best tactician on our boat is Dennis Conner. He's a great helmsman, too. The trouble is that when he does both, you have to be giving up something on one side or the other.

"We knew when they built that mast that they'd be tough in light air. We were prepared. The race could have gone either way. If we were running scared, worried that our sails or our boat or our crew weren't right, it'd be different.

"But our guys are pros at what they do. We have a lot of confidence. They're closer, but they're not going to win any more races, I don't think."

Whidden then joined his Freedom crewmates in an unprecedented, unorganized afternoon meander down Thames Street.

In an apparent effort to ease tension, Connor had given his crew the afternoon off, its first free time in weeks.

Freedom had filed a protest at the end of Friday's race, charging that Australia did not have a stern running light on after sunset.

The Australia's light was broken. Today, Conner released a statement saying Freedom's team had decided "pursuing the protest would be contrary to the best interests and traditions of sportsmanship . . . and we therefore withdraw our protest."