SAILING: Koch wins keel rethink

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The Independent Online
The America's Cup defence committee made a U-turn that would make even the most thick-skinned of politicians blush to the roots of their hair when it caved in to pressure from Bill Koch's America3 syndicate and allowed the Kansas millionaire to ask an international jury to throw his rival, Dennis Conner, out of the Citizen Cup defender trials.

The pressure was a legal one. First Koch's lawyer, Roy Bell, secured a San Diego Supreme Court hearing slot for 1pm yesterday, which would have served an injunction on Conner to prevent him from continuing to race until the matter was put back into the sport's normal procedures.

America's Cup '95 and the defence committee, both appointed by the San Diego Yacht Club to run the cup, backed down in double quick time. That allowed the international jury, chaired by Britain's John Doerr, to open the hearing into six protests lodged by Koch's America3 syndicate, two against Conner, two against AC '95 and two against the race committee. Yesterday the third defence syndicate, Pact '95, added their own, breaking out the red flag prior to the start of their last semi-final race with Conner.

The core of their complaints is the argument that Conner should not have been allowed to replace a damaged keel mid-way though the semi-final series to find the US defender, and that he has replaced the damaged keel with one that is quite different in design, and positioned in a different place on the hull.

The defence committee had originally said they wished to prevent the jury from hearing Koch's case. That just played into Koch's hands, as he could then say to a court that he did not wish to take legal action, but had been denied the due process normally available to competitors. "If we didn't get aggressive, the defence committee would have run right over us," Bell said.

He also had a letter from the defence committee instructing the measurement committee chairman, Ken McAlpine, to issue a new certificate stating that Conner's boat, Stars & Stripes, was within the rules because the replacement keel was similar to the damaged one. But McAlpine's reply said: "We do not concur with the. . . judgment concerning the similarity of the keels." In their public statement, the defence committee said they had merely advised McAlpine to issue the new certificate.

After seven and a half hours of presentations, the matter was adjourned and the hearing continues after the day's racing.

CITIZEN CUP Semi-finals: Day 10: Pact '95 bt America3, 1min 11sec. Standings: 1 Pact '95, 7 pts; 2 Stars & Stripes, 3; 3 America3, 2.

LOUIS VUITTON CUP Semi-final: Race 9: Team New Zealand bt oneAustralia, 2min 39sec; Tag Heuer bt Nippon Challenge, 2:26. Standings: 1 Team New Zealand, 9 pts; 2 oneAustralia, 5; 3 Tag Heuer, 5; 4 Nippon Challenge, 0.