Last September, just before the America's Cup trials got under way off Fremantle, Western Australia, Stars & Stripes skipper Dennis Conner began spending at least 15 minutes every day with Australian journalist Bruce Stannard. The ever-confident Conner was already setting sail on a book about recapturing the America's Cup—a full four months before the final races. Three months after his victory, Comeback: My Race for the America's Cup ($19.95) is available in bookstores.
At the time he began the interviews, Conner didn't even have a contract with a publisher. It wasn't until two weeks before February's Cup finals, when S & S faced Australia's Kookaburra III, that St. Martin's Press offered Conner a six-figure contract—win or lose. The rest is recent history.
It took St. Martin's only 30 days to get this "crash book" researched, edited and printed—normally a nine-month project. Time was so critical that Conner called in manuscript changes via cellular phone while he was at the helm during an ocean race off Florida in March.
Comeback begins with Conner's historic Cup loss to Australia II aboard Liberty in 1983 and concludes four years later with the White House reception for the victorious Stars & Stripes crew. The skipper's account of the racing action constitutes almost half the book, and landlubbers will be pleased to hear that the technical narrative is simple enough for them to understand.
While Comeback is enjoyable reading, avid Cup followers will not find many surprises. Conner reveals few vital secrets. "I don't like telling my rivals how I beat them," he writes. He is not so coy when it comes to the New York Yacht Club, his longtime sponsor and recent adversary during the '87 Cup trials. "The club became my enemy," he writes. "To me, they were just as big a threat as the Australians."
Perhaps the most entertaining chapter is his scathing critique of the press, a group Conner has always loathed—Stannard excluded, of course. The 1987 Cup campaign, he writes, "didn't change my essential attitude about them...their frequent laziness and lack of understanding about the sport." He cites a London Times headline that ran after America II, the New York Yacht Club's entry, was eliminated from the trials in December: CONNER'S CREW RETURNS HOME WITHOUT THE AMERICA'S CUP. Of course, Stars & Stripes was far from eliminated. A late-night editor in London had erroneously assumed that Conner was still racing for the NYYC, as he had in 1983, and had embellished the story with a boatload of inaccuracies.
"If dealing with the media is the worst part of any America's Cup campaign," Conner writes, "then raising money runs a close second." A goodly portion of Comeback concerns the Stars & Stripes fund-raising effort, from its receipts-in-a-shoebox inception to Conner's playing "the old waiting game" outside real estate magnate Donald Trump's office. Says Conner, "It's no fun having to call people up and beg for dollars."
John Bertrand, who steered the revolutionary winged-keel Australia II in 1983, wrote a best-selling book that angered many Australians because they thought he claimed too much of the credit for himself. Conner, however, goes overboard in handing out praise—to his family and friends, to his loyal crew, to corporate sponsors, to American technology. "This was not just the DC show," he insists. But somehow all that praise seems calculated.
Full of insights, Comeback also illustrates the drive and single-minded determination it takes to win at sailing's top level. "My insistence on the commitment to the commitment," Conner writes, "has led me to believe I may be a bit abnormal, and no doubt some people view me as insane.... I also know that if you're...trying to be Mr. Nice Guy...the results will not be satisfactory." Like him or not, history shows that, except for one big race in 1983, Dennis Conner is a winner. Comeback never lets the reader forget that.