They brought the red boat called Liberty here today, up sparkling Narragansett Bay and into the heart of America where little boys in polo shirts waited to catch the docking lines.
They towed the yacht that represents the world's longest winning streak past the little town of Bristol, where the traffic dividers are red, white and blue, and past Warren and Middletown, where folks poured into big wooden churches for service. Wild geese were honking in Easton's Pond. Someone had scrawled in red soap, "Go Liberty," on the windshields in a used car lot.
Bobby Campbell and three crewmates traveled the 20 miles to Cove Haven, where they were prepared once more to change the boat to ready it for the biggest race in yachting history.
But late this afternoon the Liberty crew decided to leave the boat as it is because mild 10- to 15-knot southwest breezes were predicted for noon Monday, when the final race of this best-of-seven series will be held. Bowman Scott Vogel said skipper Dennis Conner was pleased with Liberty's brief performance today in speed-testing against trial horse Freedom. "She's as fast as she's going to get," he said.
Campbell, a taciturn sailor from Marblehead, Mass., said, "It's a nice fall day in New England, once you get out of Newport."
Newport is crazy. The streets are jammed with tourists and the harbor is jammed with boaters, almost all here to witness the continuation or close of the New York Yacht Club's 132-year domination of the America's Cup.
The world, which long has ignored this one-sided competition, suddenly is training its eye on the waters eight miles out in Rhode Island Sound.
(No live coverage of the race is planned by the three major networks, though all are expected to provide updates during regularly scheduled programs.)
While Australia II's crew practiced starting tactics at sea in perfect sailing weather, the Liberty people were in a dark shed trying to decide whether to alter the boat again for the great race.
Before deciding to stick with the status quo, they hoisted the 90-foot mast out and set it in a cradle, then had the yacht hauled and parked indoors next to the worst 12-meter of this complicated cup summer, the failed Australian entry Advance.
Official measurer Mark Vinbury set to work with tape measures and surveyor's tools and a computer to determine new waterline marks for Liberty if the crew elected to add lead weight to change ballast.
Liberty has managed through luck and guile to win half the six races in the most competitive cup series ever, even though she has proved slower than the revolutionary Australia II with her radical, winged keel.
Now with yachting's most treasured prize at stake, last-ditch efforts were being considered to optimize Liberty's performance for the final day. Half a ton of lead bricks were removed Friday to make her faster in light airs Saturday, but racing was postponed when the breeze fell too light.
Australian syndicate chief Alan Bond had argued that Liberty's planned tactics were illegal, that she shouldn't be permitted to change measurements in the middle of a postponed race. He had planned to protest any change, but conceded a protest had little chance of success.
"Bondy is just having a poke at a dog with a stick," said Australia II designer Ben Lexcen. "He doesn't mean any harm."
Lexcen, who oversaw Liberty's remeasurement, is the wizard behind the foreign challenger. He also has been the target of attacks by the host New York Yacht Club, which sought to discredit him and his invention by claiming the winged keel was an illegal "peculiarity" largely developed by Dutch scientists in testing tanks in Holland.
But as the turbulent cup summer nears an end, Lexcen offered to make peace. "Win or lose," he said, "when it's over I want them to come out on the boat and have a steer, to see how good it is. The other boats are bloody awful. This one is wonderful."
Bond said he may show the secret keel Wednesday if Australia wins the cup. That ought to keep the surging masses in Newport an extra day or two, but Lexcen says he wants to go home and won't stick around.
"This is like the real America," said Lexcen wistfully, scanning the peaceful Barrington landscape. "Little white churches, nice people. I don't think of America as the New York Yacht Club."