Sept. 22, 1983

Dear Boss,

Rhode Island Sound is getting hot, Boss. Going to be steam coming off those waves Saturday. It's "the grand final," according to the Aussie leader. It's "the race of the century," says our American skipper. A New York Yacht Club stiffneck calls it "the most significant yacht race in history."

What a show today. They killed our guys by a record 3 minutes 25 seconds. Our only hope, and it is apparently against the rules, was for the Goodyear blimp to drop an anvil through Australia II's deck. Once behind two races to zip in this best-of-seven series, the Aussies now are even at 3-3. The seventh race, which has sailors in a sweat from Annapolis to Perth, comes up Saturday.

In my last letter from the America's Cup, as you may remember, I signed off with the hint I would rather get run over by the Metroliner than spend another day on the ocean. Yacht racing wasn't my cup of tea, unless you spiked the tea with Dramamine. I agreed then with the sage who long ago said they ought to start the America's Cup races at the head of the Niagara River.

But here I am, revved up, because the yachties are getting mean as the Hogs at feeding time. The Aussies have won the last two races. The Americans are so desperate that they tried, some people think, to draw the Aussies into a collision today. If you can't beat 'em, the reckoning goes, wreck 'em and then go to a protest. Find some pine tar on that keel. Or something.

For 132 years, we Americans have been on a winning streak in the America's Cup. Never lost it in 24 defenses. It's ours. It's bolted down in the New York Yacht Club. So when the Australians won the other day to cut our lead to 3-2 in a best-of-seven series, I had no choice, Boss. I caught the next plane north and was here today to see Liberty get blind-sided again.

Liberty's skipper, Dennis Conner, says he might change some do-dads on our boat before Saturday. Something about moving lead weights around for better flotation. What he ought to do is cut holes in the keel, install torpedo tubes and get in some target practice right quick.

Here's why: the Aussies beat Liberty by almost 2 1/2 minutes the first leg of a six-legged, 24.3-mile race today. By the end, the margin was more than three minutes. Three minutes isn't much if you're reading Dostoevsky. But in yachting, winning by three minutes is like Secretariat winning the '73 Belmont by 31 lengths. They had to send out men with lanterns to find Liberty today.

Our guys are so desperate, Boss, that Conner tried to collide with the Aussies in order to file a protest. At least, the Aussies think that's what Conner had in mind when he turned toward them with the race long lost. It happened as Australia II rounded the marker to start down the fifth leg.

Terror Australia is the nickname for the sneering Aussie koala bear on posters that read, "We're Coming to Get You." The Aussies are terrors on the high seas, for sure, and they had such a big lead rounding the marker that they were about to pass Liberty still working its way up the course.

No way Conner could win. Forget it. This race was long ago history, back there on the first leg when the Aussies built a big lead. So with no way to win by catching up, Conner tried something else.

He turned left and sailed toward the path of Australia II coming down the course. Conner could do that legally because he was between the Aussies and the source-direction of the wind. He had the right of way.

But there was no tactical advantage to be gained.

The only advantage, experts agreed, would come to Conner if Australia II collided with him. Then Conner could file a protest.

Not very sporting, eh, Boss?

Something Billy Martin would have thought of.

You may remember from my last letter the yachting author, Louis d'Alpuget, the gentleman with the leather strap holding his bush hat down. When he saw Conner's maneuver on the fifth leg, d'Alpuget harrumphed at the brashness of it. In broad daylight. On the ocean.

"It is rather like a boxer directing a blow at one's privates in hopes the referee won't notice," the yachting author said.

"That's one of the things that just isn't done," said Alan Bond, chief of the Australia II syndicate.

"Within the rules, he's allowed. . . " said Aussie skipper John Bertrand. "So there would be chance of a protest, we altered course dramatically to steer around his bow."

Conner, for his part, said he was only racing.

Conner was a wise guy afterward, too. The Aussie skipper said he built such a big lead early because his crew could see "the wind on the water up the race track." This is important because you try to get your boat in the best wind possible.

Well, Conner didn't like that. It implies, of course, that he couldn't find the wind out there. "He must have X-ray eyes," Conner said of the Aussie skipper. "We didn't see it."

In any case, Australia II was faster than Liberty in any wind, in any position on the course, and its overwhelming performance again brought up the question of what, exactly, is that mystery keel?

There is a caricature for sale here entitled "The Keel Revealed." Under the water line, we see the keel is no keel at all. It is two NASA rockets, two kangaroos pedaling sternwheels, eight galley slaves rowing and two koala bears swimming with tow lines.

I'm checking that out, Boss.