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Original Issue


Evidently the more elusive the America's Cup becomes, the more desirable it is to foreign challengers. In 1980 yachts from Australia, Great Britain, France and Sweden fought tooth and sail for the honor of being potential victim 24 in 24 defenses dating back to 1870. That dubious prize fell to Australia, which was defeated four races to one by the home side's Freedom, despite an innovative mast that increased the Aussies' sail area. The picture below indicates why the quest was futile: a 13-month series of sparring matches between Freedom and her stablemate, Enterprise, provided training of a duration and quality unmatched by any challenger's, and Freedom still had to beat Courageous and Clipper in slam-bang trials to select the defender.


Things were getting serious. Australia had become the first challenger to win an America's Cup race in 10 years, evening the best-of-seven series at one-all, and as the third race unfolded it looked as if the U.S. defender should be renamed Anarchy. Freedom's deck was beginning to resemble an Abbott and Costello travesty. After she took a 45-second lead at the first mark, her spinnaker came apart. On the second windward leg her jib split from luff to leech. A wave washed across Freedom's deck on the next leg, fouling a spinnaker that had been readied for hoisting. Then the spinnaker halyard was mistakenly hooked up inside the topping lift; as a result, the spinnaker wrapped itself around the headstay.

How did all this affect Dennis Conner, Freedom's 38-year-old skipper? During the confusion, he spoke just twice. By staying calm, Conner did more than keep his yacht on course: he won by 53 seconds.

There were no more close calls. Freedom triumphed in each of the last two races by more than three minutes to lay claim to being one of the great defenders. Certainly she was the best prepared, in the summer's Cup Trials she had won 43 of 47 races from the 1977 defender, Ted Turner's Courageous, and the upstart Clipper, a new design that utilized the keel and gear of Ted Hood's 1977 contender, independence. Freedom, designed by the America's Cup master Olin Stephens, had been in the water since May 1979 for exhaustive sparring sessions with Stephens' 1977-model Enterprise, a very fast boat in its own right. The Freedom campaign cost more than $2 million.

Australia emerged the winner of a runoff among the foreign challengers, which included France's France 3, Britain's Lionheart and Sweden's Sverige. Dressed from head to toe in white, Baron Marcel Bich, the 66-year-old French ballpoint-pen magnate who had made his fourth try for the Auld Mug, pinched his nose and jumped into Newport Harbor to mark his formal departure from Cup competition. The Aussies? They'll be back in '83, mate. And they'll return, promised syndicate head Alan Bond, "a little older, a little wiser and, hopefully, a little faster."

Russell Long (wearing headband) got surprising speed out of his bargain-basement Clipper.

The Cup safe again, Freedom's crew takes the traditional dip at dockside in Newport.

Enterprise gave defender Freedom 250 days and 10,000 miles worth of competition in practice.

Australia's bendy mast won a race, but another war was lost.

Alas for the Aussies, the Cup was not a case of marsupial over matter.