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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Conner Faces Winds, Women

SAN DIEGO -- Weather permitting, the 29th America's Cup was due to start Thursday with a race featuring Dennis Conner, who needs no introduction, against 16 women who do.

Conner was on "Good Morning America" on Wednesday with Kevin Mahaney of PACT 95 and Leslie Egnot of the America3 women's team, who represented his rivals in the Citizen Cup defender trials.

"Kevin Mahaney and myself were sitting down and Dennis Conner arrived a bit later," Egnot said. "I'd never met him before and was looking forward to it, and he came and sat down right next to me -- and he didn't say anything. He did say hello to Paula Zahn (the hostess) rather charmingly.

"Obviously, he wasn't going to say anything to me, so I tapped him on the knee and said, 'By the way, my name is Leslie, we haven't met before.' He just sort of mumbled something and that was it. That was my first meeting with Dennis Conner."

Her second was Thursday when she was to steer the old America3 boat against Conner's new Stars & Stripes in what the women's paternal patron, Bill Koch, describes as "a very historical event." Koch is the Kansas billionaire who led the campaign that outspent and outmaneuvered Conner to defend the Cup for the San Diego Yacht Club in 1992. This time he elected to field an all-women crew.

Because the third defender, PACT 95, needed more time to repair its boat, which was damaged while ashore in last week's storm, the first round robin of the defender trials was rearranged to delay Young America's debut as long as possible. Stars & Stripes will meet America3 in the first three daily races through Saturday, then PACT 95 will race the women Sunday and then one or the other in six consecutive races through Jan. 20.

"We're ready to go," Egnot said. "We can't wait."

It seems that the women will not be easily intimidated or discouraged -- not by Conner or by the new boats sailed by their rivals. Until their new boat arrives next month, they must use the one that became obsolete as soon as it won in '92.

J.J. Isler, who will steer for the start and call tactics, said, not quite convincingly, "We see that as an opportunity to get that last ounce of speed out of that old boat -- and if it's a poker game, we'll see those other guys putting their cards on the table first."

Besides, the women have been racing each other in two of Koch's old boats since April, while Conner has sailed his new boat only 40 hours and Mahaney and his crew had only six days aboard Young America before the waterspout struck his compound.

"I think the odds are much in our favor," Egnot said.

And if the men's boats are faster at the outset, there is even a positive spin for that: "It would be very good if they were faster than us," Egnot said. "We need to push ourselves as hard as we can." Egnot, Isler, Becker-Dey, Dawn Riley and Annie Nelson will rotate through the three afterguard positions of helmsman, tactician and navigator.

The plan is to rotate all 32 women through the 16 crew positions, at least in the four trial rounds ending March 12.

How Conner will approach the race is an interesting question. With Isler steering America3 for the start, Conner will be opposing the wife of his television show co-host, Peter Isler.

This is old stuff to Conner, but the women are clearly excited.

"It means so much to me to be on the boat for the first race," Egnot said. "I still have to pinch myself that it is really happening."