Growing mushrooms in Hawaii

Published on January 26th, 2022

Thirteen challengers pursued the 1987 America’s Cup, but none with the motivation of Dennis Conner. This was the first time for 132 years that it had not been defended by the New York Yacht Club, and it was Conner’s team that lost it in 1983.

He was coming to get it back.

Conner’s team Stars & Stripes 87 would get that chance, and went on to defeat the Australian defender Kookaburra III, sailed by Iain Murray, sweeping the best of seven series in Fremantle, Australia.

Prior to the racing on January 31-February 4, two noted U.S. boating journalists got access to Conner’s camp. In this flashback report, here are their stories:

The Washington Post – Angus Phillips (January 16, 1987)
Dennis Conner remembers with less than reverie the 10 months he spent in Hawaii training for the America’s Cup, but he wouldn’t trade it.

“We didn’t have much money, so we stayed in old Navy housing,” he said. “I won’t say it was bad, but let’s just say you wouldn’t leave your shoes outside the door to dry. They might not be there in the morning.”

The accommodations were not what lured him, anyway, but the isolation and the proximity of big seas and winds, in which he could secretly test the theories he felt were keys to regaining yachting’s top prize.

Now, as Conner’s Stars & Stripes holds a 2-0 lead over New Zealand in the best-of-seven challenger finals, the Hawaiian training looks smart.

“If we win the Cup,” he said, “the biggest single reason will be the decision to stay in Hawaii.”

What Conner and his Stars & Stripes team did there, from October 1985 to August 1986, was to laboriously figure out what makes the new breed of winged-keel 12-meter go fast upwind in a straight line. – Full report

Los Angeles Times – Rich Roberts (January 29, 1987)
The voice of Peter Isler, Stars & Stripes ’87 navigator, comes over the hand-held radio to Stars & Stripes ’85. “Go for it,” Isler orders.

Translated: raise your headsail and we’ll start sailing.

Then: “Stand by.”

“That was one of the quickest changes of plans ever,” says Malin Burnham, aboard S&S; ’85.

John (Rambo) Grant calls back from his grinder’s position amidships: “Ah, Malin, after you’ve been on the mushroom boat a while you’ll get used to it.”

And what is the mushroom boat? It started while the team was training in Hawaii, after Dennis Conner took delivery of ’87 and turned ’85 over to veteran helmsman Jack Sutphen as the trial boat.

Sutphen, who has sailed 10 12-meters in four America’s Cup campaigns, says he wasn’t always sure of the day’s game plan.

“They would say, ‘OK, it’s light and fluky so we’ll do some windward-leeward races for a while,’ then they’d change their minds and do something else,” Sutphen said. “We never knew.

“One of the crew finally said: ‘You know, we live in the dark.’ And another guy said, ‘Yeah, we’re mushrooms. We never know what’s going on. Nobody ever interviews us or asks to take pictures of us’.” – Full report

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