SAILING:Win for women

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The Independent Online
In very few sports do women compete on equal terms with men, especially team sports that require physical athleticism as well as skill and guile, but yesterday off Point Loma, San Diego, 16 women had grins that stretched all the way across the Uni ted States as they won their first America's Cup trial race.

Perhaps all the way round the world. Their adversary was Mr America's Cup Dennis Conner and, on the Pacific waters he has sailed since he was a boy, he was on the wrong end of a shock in the first race of the '95 trials.

In '92 he had an unhappy time as brash and ebullient Bill Koch said his science could beat sailing skill. Now he faces another three months of uphill struggle in '95 as Koch sends out a team of women to do the job for him.

You could almost smell the blood on the racecourse when "JJ" Isler in the pre-start not only recovered from being pushed over the line early but won a penalty as Conner misjudged his ability to pass in front of her on port tack when Isler was on the right-of-way starboard tack.

She then crossed the line ahead anyway, waited for Conner to do the 270-degree turn, which pushed him to about eight boat-lengths down, and handed over to Leslie Egnot, who confounded all the predictions by extending the lead.

The old (1992), though modified, America3 (Cubed) was faster than the brand new Stars & Stripes over the 3.25 miles into the wind and the women were a minute and 40 seconds ahead as they smoothly rounded the top mark and executed a faultless gennaker hoist.

At the end of that first run Conner had cut the difference to just over a minute, but the tacking duel he then intitiated on the second beat up to the windward mark was dealt with very comfortably by Cubed, who added 11 seconds to their lead.

It indicated both that Conner did not believe that a straight speed differential drag race would bring him the gains he wanted, his new boat did not have a speed edge, and that Cubed could play its own game.

In the opening round of Louis Vuitton Cup challenger races today Russell Coutts' Team New Zealand and Spain's Pedro Campos line up for the first match, followed by Marc Pajot in France 2/3 and Syd Fischer's Sydney '95, while John Bertrand's oneAustralia meets the Makoto Namba-skippered Nippon Challenge.

Chris Dickson must wait until Sunday until opening his account, but the defenders will stage a repeat, though not the same order of finish if Dennis has any say, of Stars & Stripes versus America3 (Cubed). The third US defence syndicate, Pact '95, make their first appearance tomorrow having been excused racing for the first three days to make repairs to their boat and equipment following storm damage at their compound.