America’s Cup: A good day for women

Published on January 13th, 2020

by Bill Center, The San Diego Union-Tribune
The first all-female crew in the 144-year history of the America’s Cup opened the defense trials in January of 1995 by defeating Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes in the first race of the series in San Diego, CA.

However, the women’s team ultimately fell short of winning the right to defend against the New Zealand challengers. Now 25 years later, here’s my story from January 14, 1995:

America’s Cup: Women rule the waves for a day — with help from umpire’s call
There are times when the impact of a historic event can’t be judged until a later date.

The first all-female crew in the 144-year history of the America’s Cup opened the defense trials yesterday by defeating Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes by 1 minute, 9 seconds in an 18.55-mile, windward-leeward race off Point Loma.

Stunning. Almost too stunning. The easy win by the women in the older America3 hull raised as many questions as it answered.

Are the women that good? Is Conner’s new boat bad? Was this an aberration? Was Conner playing games? Or did a controversial umpire’s call before the start determine the outcome before the race began?

“What happened?” was the question heard time and again at the Louis Vuitton Media Center on Shelter Island.

• A toppling of the “old guard” if the teams’ true strength paralleled the results of the first race.
• An eventual footnote if it is an anomaly.

“The women’s victory will certainly put the America’s Cup on the front pages around the world,” OneAustralia skipper John Bertrand said.

And what is good for the Cup eventually is good for Dennis Conner.

“This keeps my track record intact of losing historic races,” said Conner, whose loss to Australia in 1983 marked the end of New York Yacht Club’s 132-year hold on the Auld Mug.

First the Aussies, now the women. But wait, Dennis bounced back from that 1983 defeat . . .

“We’re thrilled to win today,” said America3 helmsman Leslie Egnot. “But we realize there is a long way to go. We’ve already started thinking about tomorrow, when we race Stars & Stripes again.”

Said Stars & Stripes tactician Tom Whidden: “I want to congratulate the women. But stay tuned.”

Yesterday was the first of 48 races in the defender round-robins and semifinals. America3 and Stars & Stripes will face each other 15 more times before the defense field of three is trimmed to two finalists.

But the women have a 1-0 lead — thanks in part to a controversial penalty call before the start.

In the prestart maneuvering, Stars & Stripes, whose tactical command has 15 America’s Cups of experience, was flagged for a port-starboard right-of-way foul against a boat whose entire crew was making its official match racing debut.

America3 — with San Diegan J.J. Isler handling the prestart maneuvers and tactics — sailed cleanly away from the line as Stars & Stripes made a 270-degree penalty turn.

“Basically, the race was over then,” Conner said. “The women had a 500- to 700-foot lead. They did a nice job after that.”

But Conner believed the foul was a bad call by the umpiring team led by John Doerr. And Doerr himself had second thoughts.

“There is some doubt,” Doerr said of the penalty. “We’re reviewing the films.”

Actually, when Doerr said that at the postrace news conference, the incident had already been reviewed by the umpires and the teams.

Whereas fouls in America’s Cups before 1992 were decided in the protest room, umpires now make the calls on the water. And all decisions are final.

“Our feeling is that was a bad call,” said Conner, whose team later said the review backed that claim.

“I don’t think the boats got to within 30 feet of each other. It’s a judgment call. Umpires are human. They can make bad calls. We saw that last Sunday in the Charger game. We have to play by those rules.”

Isler said she had to alter course to avoid a collision.

Egnot added: “Even without the penalty turn, J.J. did a better job of starting the boat and we would have won the start anyway.”

“I doubt that,” Conner said.

After the start, Egnot did a great job of keeping America3 in the lead. The Cubens looked as if they had a slight speed edge into the wind while Stars & Stripes was faster off the wind.

“Today was tough conditions for sailing the boat,” said Isler of the steep seas and shifty 6-knot winds.

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