A brisk northeaster blew into Rhode Island Sound overnight but promptly blew back out again, putting the kibosh on the long-awaited showdown of Australia II and Liberty in the 25th challenge for the America's Cup.

"Do you feel you were robbed?" eager reporters asked Australian syndicate chief Alan Bond after the New York Yacht Club first postponed and finally canceled today's match because of shifty winds.

"No," Bond answered simply, ending hopes for a new chapter in a summer-long battle of wills between the NYYC and the Aussies, who are posing the stiffest challenge in decades for the cup the U.S. never has lost.

The NYYC, which as host for the cup races has the right to determine viability of conditions to stage a proper sailing test, cited as justification for the cancellation wind shifts of 40 degrees and 35 degrees during two starting sequences.

As a result of the shifts, which would have turned required upwind tacking duels into a straight-line speed race, the club put off the opening round of the best-of-seven series until Wednesday, when stormy winds of 20 to 30 knots are predicted.

The decision was prudent, said skipper Dennis Conner of the U.S. boat Liberty. Bond wouldn't go that far, but he didn't complain either, saying, "We race under race committee rules and are bound by their decisions."

Liberty held a slight lead behind the starting line when the first postponement was called at 12:08, two minutes before the scheduled start. The two yachts then whiled away nearly two hours before the committee tried again at 2 p.m., and Australia II had a commanding, three-boat-length lead when the second and final cancellation was rung up at 2:08.

"My feeling," said Bond, "was that the race (starting sequence) had begun and we were doing okay, but we'll just have to do it again tomorrow."

The abandonment was a bitter pill for spectators aboard an estimated 1,500 vessels that ventured out under sunny skies to see the first confrontation between the red U.S. boat and the white boat from Australia with her radical winged keel.

Observers figured it would be a bitter pill as well for the Aussies, whose yacht has proven almost unbeatable during summer trials in light winds like today's eight-knot breezes.

"Today was interesting," said Conner. "We had a couple of practice starts and got an idea how well Australia turns, but we really didn't have any demonstration of her upwind speed."

If weather predictions are correct, Conner still could be wondering Wednesday. The boats will not race if the wind pipes up above 25 knots, when equipment damage becomes a near certainty.