They call her Freedom but her bosses try to keep her in some measure of control.

Today the sleek blue U.S. 12-meter yacht was anything but in control, yet she held on anyway to defeat Australia by 53 seconds and gain a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven America's Cup final series. She never gave up the lead around the 24.3 mile course.

Skipper Dennis Conner, who trained 18 months with his crew so there would be no foulups when the chips were down in Rhode Island Sound, had this to say about one wacky five minute sequence in today's race.

"We did indeed rip our jib a quarter-mile from the mark. We contemplated changing jibs but the mark was so close we stuck with it.

"Because of our problems we weren't set to go with our spinnaker when we got to the mark. The spinnaker got away from us when a big wave came over the bow and washed it over the side. So we were dragging our spinnaker when we went around the mark.

"Things went from bad to worse. When we did hoist the spinnaker we couldn't get it all the way up. We had to jibe before we were ready. When we did the pole went in the water and because the pole went in the water the spinnaker warpped around the headstay and, finally, when we got squared away Australia was up with us."

Ted Turner used to characterize moments like that as "The Keystone Kops go sailboat racing."

"I guess we used up our quota of mistakes," Conner said. "The boat couldn't figure out what else we could do wrong."

The crew of Freedom did a few things wrong today but the boat bailed them out. A southwest breeze sprang up and it blew Freedom's cares away.

Before the debacle Conner described so diligently, the Freedom people already had managed to blow one lightair spinnaker into two giant shreds, which may have been the most startling sight in the Cup races to date.

It all matter not. With fresh breezes to Freedom's liking instead of the desultory airs that have plagued the last two races, today was a sailing day at last.

Friday, the Australians had managed to hand Freedom the first defeat of a U.S. defender in a decade. Today the Americans took revenge.

Superior boat speed in winds of 10 to 15 knots gave Freedom the power to spring back when she lost ground, and when it was over Australia was across the finish 10 boat lengths behind.

At the end both boats flew protest flags from their backstays. While there was no official comment on the nature of the complaints, sources in the two camps said each would argue a technicality before an international jury on Monday. Both crews claimed their rivals had been flying spinnakers unattached to their spinnaker poles.

The jury will have all day to decide that issue. Australia, which has shown clearly now that her only edge is in light breezes, called for a lay day to work on her heavy wind capabilities and pray for less breeze. Racing resumes Tuesday.

The race today was close and exciting. It also did Freedom's sail inventory no good at all.

One hour into to the race, with the Americans pulling convincingly ahead under sunny skies, Freedom's ballooning red, white and blue spinnaker burst horizontally into two flapping pieces.

"We had a little trouble when our three-quarter-ounce spinaker ripped in half," a smiling Conner said afterward.

By that time Freedom had completed one leg, rounding the first mark 45 seconds in the lead. Faced with disaster, her crew instead gave a lesson in seamanship.

They hastily hoisted a jib, gathered in the lower half of the torn sail, hoisted a new spinnaker, then doused the jib again. Duration of exercise: about 90 seconds.

"Fantastic," said a spectator aboard the observation boat Hell-cat.

The mishap was not without cost. By the second mark the lead had dipped to 26 seconds and it was down to 20 at the third buoy.

On the fourth leg, directly into the wind, Conner made up time. Freedom rounded 51 seconds in the lead but blew it all again on the Keystone Kops debacle.

With Australia nestled against Freedom's hip, the Americans battled downwind and turned the corner for the final 4 1/2 mile race to the finish with a meager eight second lead.

"We camped on Australia's wind," Conner said. With the breezes freshening to 15 knots, Freedom's ideal conditions, the Americans pulled away to the finish where they were greeted with toots and cheers from the spectator fleet.

Australia's choice of a lay day Monday was one more indication that this Cup series is going to come down to weather. Australia has the clear advantage when winds are light. Her bendy-topped mast and her new mylar/kevlar mainsail give her about 200 square feet of extra sail area aloft. But she can only take advantage of it in winds of under 10 knots.

"We figure the break point at about 9 knots, actually," said Bill Langen, chief designer at Sparkman and Stephens, where Freedom was drawn.

Above 9 knots, he said, Freedom's conventional rig gives her superior speed.

That favors Freedom, since fall weather in these climes is generally breezy. Now there are new reports that Australia is awaiting delivery of a new heavy air mainsail made of the space age combination mylar/kevlar fabric. a

Australian syndicate manager Alan Bond denied that report last night.