"We're going to clean their clock," said Ben Lexcen with a grin today as he strode off Australia II's dock.

"Do you see how far their bloody boat tips over? Ours stands straight up. Even in a light breeze Liberty's mast is over like this," said Lexcen, describing a sharp angle with his forearm. "When your boat tips like that you lose power. We're going to clean their clock even if it blows a gale."

Lexcen is back in form. The outspoken designer who dreamed up Australia II and her controversial winged keel had a bout of high blood pressure in this pressurized America's Cup summer and was hospitalized briefly.

But a recovered Lexcen was among the first aboard Australia II Sunday for the jubilation at sea after her unprecedented 3 minute 14 second thrashing of Liberty, the U.S. defender, and today he still was crowing. And predicting.

In Lexcen's mind and all around Newport the feeling suddenly is that Australia II leads, at least psychologically, in this best-of-seven final series for the cup America hasn't lost in 132 years, even though she still trails Liberty, 2-1. The crews took a lay day today and will resume racing Tuesday.

The facts seem to bear him out. Both Liberty's victories were in breezy conditions considered ideal for her and both were assisted by serious Aussie gear breakdowns. Still the challenger managed to keep close. Then on Sunday in gentler air, Australia II marched away from the red American defender.

Now observers are wondering if Liberty skipper Dennis Conner can keep up with the white boat under any conditions, assuming Australia II avoids another breakdown. Lexcen is convinced he can't.

To win, Liberty crewman Tom Rich conceded today, "We've got to outsail them." Added sail trimmer John Marshall, "We have to sail even on boat speed and better on tactics in our (heavy air) conditions. At the low end (of the wind scale), their superior boat speed is likely to be decisive."

Liberty called today's lay day in hopes better breezes would build by Tuesday and the forecast looks good. A southwester of 15 to 25 knots is predicted, with four- to six-foot seas.

To the Americans' credit, they have an impeccably disciplined crew and in the back of the boat four of the finest sailors in the world in navigator Halsey Herreshoff, tactician Tom Whidden, sail trimmer Marshall and skipper Conner.

To their disadvantage, they have a boat the crew dubbed over the summer, half in jest, "The Sea Pig."

"It's sort of a term of endearment," said Marshall, who is president of North Sails, "but there are times when we feel like we have to whip her to get her going."

The brain trust in the American boat is faced with an unfamiliar dilemma. "It's the first time they face a truly competitive foreign boat being sailed very, very well," said Australia II skipper John Bertrand. "All of a sudden it's a boat race instead of a walkover."

Indeed, in the four races run so far, including Saturday's scrubbed contest when the wind lightened and the time limit expired, Australia II has led Liberty to the first mark on the course every time. Until now no other foreign 12-meter ever led an American defender to the first mark since 12-meters were established as the competing class in 1958.

How can the Americans respond?

"Dennis Conner's strength, intrinsically, is his match-racing instinct," said Marshall. "How to attack, how to control and how to hurt the opposition. He's brilliant in that regard by any measure."

And he's unflappable. "In the first race in the 1980 cup he leaned over to me and said very quietly, 'Hey, the rudder just fell off,' " said Herreshoff. It took Conner and his Freedom crew two legs to repair a bad steering gear, but he won anyway. And no one panicked.

Nor has he panicked yet in this series, though he's trailed far more miles than he's led. In the second race "he was so patient," said Marshall. "He was really sailing both boats, watching what the other boat did until he saw she was in trouble, then attacking."

But in Bertrand, the 37-year-old Australia II skipper with the droopy, Fu-Manchu mustache, he may have met his match in patience. What did Bertrand do after the most auspicious challenger's victory in America's Cup competition since 1871, when the English challenger won a race by 15 minutes?

"Went home," said Bertrand, "got my wife a lovely glass of wine, had a delightful meal, relaxed with the children and went to bed." He also phoned his mother in Australia, who advised him "it's just crazy back home."

In the view of the soft-spoken Bertrand, who took his master's degree in ocean engineering on a scholarship at MIT, "The next race is very, very critical. If we win, it's even and becomes the best-of-three. If we lose, we're on our backs against the wall."

Bertrand and his crew say they're looking forward to a heavy blow. Lexcen can't wait.

"Two years ago we took her (Australia II) out in a cyclone just to see what she'd do. It was blowing 45 or 50 knots. We couldn't even get the deck wet," he said. "Just wait till you see her."