The docks are a 12-meter graveyard. Here lies Sverige, the bulbous intruder form Sweden, her mast lashed on the deck, her gear stripped, yellow and white and waiting for someone to want her.

Here is Intrepid, the boat that in 1967 revolutionized America's Cup design, the last of the great wooden 12-meters, the one everyone calls "the wonderful shape."

Here's France 3, hanging like a dinghy from her hoist; here is Clipper, bobbing in the dirty water, ready for the trip to storage.

In a few days Freedom and Australia will join them, perhaps never to return to competition.

The American Cup 1980 seems over even though it isn't. Dennis conner's swift boat Freedom must defeat Australia one more time and the silver ewer will be safe in its perch at the New York Yacht Club for another three years.

Soon the people that made this Cup summer will be gone. Many will be back in 1983. And the boats? Even for the good ones it may well be the end. b

Australia took a desperated gamble this year, switching in the final weeks from her traditional rig to a bendy mast and oversized mainsail, hoping to get an edge in certain conditions and slip away with the Cup.

It didn't quite work. But the new rig, invented by the British, appears certain now to alter the shape and form of 12-meter yachts in the future and outdate the beauties raced this year.

"It's like Intrepid in 1967," said Conner. "It will create a new breed of 12-meters.

"The rig was a tremendous innovative idea. You add 15 percent more sail area."

The problem England and Australia had in this year's competition was lack of time to sculpt the boat to match the new rig. The three years until the next Cup will be time aplenty. Unless the International Yacht Racing Union steps in with a rules change to outlaw the bendy mast, it seems clear that all the boats that are leaders of the 12-meter pack today will be bypassed by a new breed.

"If they allow it to continue," said Conner, "the boats will change and it will be a designers' market again.

"I don't know if that's in the best interests of the Cup. You'll knock a lot of good 12-meters out of the game."

The bendy rig allows 12-meters to circumvent certain rules and carry more sail.

As far as he and other knowledgeable sailors can figure, that spells the end for hulls like Freedom, Australia, Courageous and Clipper.

Conner and Australian skipper Jim Hardy get at least one more chance to strut their soon-to-be-outdated stuff. They race again Thursday, with Freedom leading the best of seven series, 3-1.

In hopes of avoiding the coup de grace, Australia put to sea early this morning to test heavy-weather sails and practice starting-line tactics. "We're looking down the barrel of a gun," said Hardy.

There was a quieter confidence at the Freedom camp, where things are finally loosening up after the tense summer.

Even Conner had his mind elsewhere. He was polishing a minibike he bought this summer and looking for a buyer. "It's only got 49 miles on it," he said.

Conner was already daydreaming about the upcoming ocean racing schedule. "I've been on holiday for two years," he said. "Now I'm going back to some serious sailing. I need a fix."

Conner, who runs a drapery business in San Diego, plans to compete in the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit in Florida this winter.

"What's happened to Dennis is that he doesn't like the west Coast any more," said crewman Tom Whitten. "He knows he has to stay here for good racing."

Then Whitten, a sailmaker by trade, bought the skipper's minibike, making Conner an offer he couldn't refuse. "I traded him a new spinnaker," said Whitten.