SAILING: Koch calls for `illegal' Conner to be thrown out

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Bill Koch's America3 syndicate wants Dennis Conner's Stars and Stripes thrown out of the America's Cup defender trials, accusing the team of making illegal changes to their boat.

A protest to the regatta jury, however, was blocked by the San Diego Yacht Club's defence committee. A statement signed by the America's Cup '95 president, Chuck Nichols, and the chairman, Wytie Cable, said they had told the international jury not to hear the case. In plain language, they are saying that the fight is in their backyard and they will deal with it. A resolutely silent jury was in high dudgeon mode.

Koch's gripe is that Conner was given permission to fit a new keel and bulb (actually an old one) midway through the defenders' Citizen Cup semi- finals because the one with which Conner started the series was so badly damaged it could not be repaired.

The defence committee's assertion that the replacement keel was similiar to the damaged one, and therefore legal, has been specifically rejected by Ken McAlpine, chairman of the measurement committee.

An America3 spokesman, Will Robinson, said that they had never been consulted and that Conner had gone to the committee and asked for the authorisation even though it was contrary to the rules.

Conner's helmsman, Paul Cayard, said they were of the opinion that they had the proper authorisation, but conceded that there was a "defence plan" document which possibly prohibited such a move, but did not know whether that document had precedence over the "conditions of race", which did not.

Meanwhile, on the water, and after working flat out for 36 hours, Conner's team beat Koch's in a crucial race for the second place in the defender finals. It was a simple enough affair, though Cayard stepped off the narrow line of political correctness by saying that if they had sailed their boat as badly as the 15 women and a man carrying the Koch banner they would expect to lose. Cayard knows how to rattle nervy opponents.

There is one more scheduled match between Conner and Koch, on Saturday, with Conner carrying a one-point advantage. A draw would mean a sudden death sail-off. A win by Conner is sudden death for Koch.

Out on the water Team New Zealand, making their final appearance in the Louis Vuitton Cup semi-finals before retiring to concentrate on developing their two unbeaten boats, were again leading comfortably against their probable final opponent, oneAustralia. Bertrand's shore crew are also ready for action.

Chris Dickson's Tag Heuer was leading a Nippon Challenge giving some of the back up crew a race now that their campaign is hopeless and on the defender course Kevin Mahaney's Pact '95 was ahead of Koch's Mighty Mary.