Dennis Conner calls it the race of the century and it just might last that long.
Today, the heralded seventh and deciding race of the America's Cup fell flat in a shifty, declining breeze and was abandoned before the start by the race committee, neither side objecting.
Afterward, skipper Conner and the crew of beleaguered Liberty, the U.S. defender, called a lay day Sunday, meaning racing won't be resumed until Monday, and announced they were heading off across Narragansett Sound to once again revise the weight and sail plan of the yacht.
Alan Bond, Australia II syndicate chief, denounced the move as contrary to the rules and said if Liberty is altered again, as it was Friday in preparation for today's contest, he will protest.
Bond, who said Liberty "can't run forever," also disclosed that for the second time this summer Australia II was the target of a frogman's efforts to get inside the shroud covering her secret keel.
Bond said security personnel spotted air bubbles approaching the Australia dock in Newport Harbor at 2 a.m. today. The guards scared off the interloper, he said, and saw him emerge from the water three docks away. They gave chase, said Bond, "but he got away."
Bond said that earlier this week someone suspended plastic garbage bags in the water in front of the yacht's berth, evidently hoping one would catch on the winged underwater appendage as Australia went out to race. He suspected a frogman in that caper.
Earlier this summer a Canadian diver was arrested trying to swim under Australia's skirts.
Bond had a chuckle for today's frogman caper, but was unamused by the latest effort to upgrade Liberty, which was beaten badly the last two races to square at 3-3 the best-of-seven series for the cup America has not lost in 132 years. It is the first time a cup series ever has gone to seven races.
"We came to race one yacht, not three," said Bond, adding that if Liberty is allowed to change her ballast and sail plan to fit conditions day by day, "they should at least be required to paint it so we know what yacht we're racing. A good color might be pink."
Bond argued that while the racing rules might allow for changes in ballast and remeasurement between races in the final series, they say nothing about changing the configuration twice for the same race.
"We don't believe the intent of the rules is to allow a rating change during the regatta," said Bond, "but we're much more concerned that you can't change during a postponement." His view is that a race that is postponed and resumed later is one race, and thus Liberty should be required to stay the same for it.
He said the rules provide him no recourse but to protest after the violation occurs, so Australia II will fly her red protest flag when the race gets under way. Should Australia lose, the hearing of that protest could further prolong the outcome of this turbulent series, already at 14 days tied for the longest confrontation of 12-meter yachts ever in the cup.
(Bill Ficker of the host New York Yacht Club's America's Cup Committee told the Associated Press that Liberty has three different certifications to use depending upon the weight, although she must be remeasured each time.)
In altering the boat, Liberty's crew is searching for a competitive equalizer. Australia II has shown superior speed in all conditions in this series, and lost three times only by gear failure in two contests and perfect boat handling by Conner in the third.
On Friday Liberty was lightened by about 1,000 pounds and her sails recut to add square footage in an effort to make her faster in today's light airs. On Sunday she evidently will be altered again to "optimize performance," in navigator Halsey Herreshoff's terms, for expected wind conditions Monday.
"We are happy to meet them on the water," said Bond, an ebullient multimillionaire financier from Perth who is in his fourth bid for the cup, "but which Liberty are we going to meet--the green one, the red one or the pink one?"
A massive spectator fleet went to sea today to watch this historic race, which could end what is thought to be the longest winning streak in sports. Conditions were ideal for boating--gentle northerly breezes and sparkling blue water and skies--but not for yacht racing.
The 10-minute prestart sequence was begun on schedule at noon and the yachts engaged in starting maneuvers behind the line.
Eight minutes later the race committee hoisted a postponement flag, citing shifting winds that wound up declining in velocity down to 3 to 4 knots.
Two hours later the race was called off and the huge fleet headed back to Newport.
It was the second postponement of the series, the first race having fallen to the same fate. The committee's decision prompted no complaints.
"There was nothing else they could do," said Australia II designer Ben Lexcen.
"We'd never have finished the race," said Liberty navigator Herreshoff.