THE 35TH AMERICA'S CUP starts in a few weeks. Some of the sailing world still cares about the Auld Mug, which will be contested in foiling 50-foot catamarans on the Great Sound in the tax haven of Bermuda, far from the home waters of the trustee, San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club. To a fair portion of the sailing world, it's not really the America's Cup anymore, which is sad.
This year also happens to be the 30th anniversary of Dennis Conner's stirring victory against Iain Murray and Kookaburra III off Australia, which is worth celebrating all these years later.
Now that was an America's Cup, probably the best ever, for so many reasons. Conner regained the Cup that he had lost four years earlier in Newport, R.I.
He led at every mark in sweeping the Aussies.
The races aired late at night and into the early morning hours in the United States, and the lively conditions whipped up by the Fremantle Doctor captivated even the landlubbers who stayed up to watch.
It was the final Cup contested in the venerable 12 meters, which are still beloved today. There really was nothing like the sight of the 12s pounding through the waves off Freo.
For a brief time, Conner and the America's Cup enjoyed the mainstream spotlight. Conner appeared on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated, the latter featuring the skipper with the Gipper, President Ronald Reagan, holding the America's Cup during a visit to the White House.
Donald Trump paid for a ticker-tape parade down Fifth Avenue in New York and even rode on the float, with New York Mayor Ed Koch and the Stars & Stripes crew.
Jimmy Buffett was in Fremantle for the Cup and wrote a fight song for the Stars & Stripes crew called "Take It Back.'' The song is on the "Boats, Beaches, Bars, & Ballads" box set.
The actual anniversary passed quietly on Feb. 4. Halsey Herreshoff hosted Conner and his Stars & Stripes crew at the Herreshoff Marine Museum-America's Cup Hall of Fame in Bristol, R.I.In November, Conner was awarded the New York Yacht Club Medal. The medal was first awarded in 1964 to the members of the Constellation America's Cup syndicate as an expression of the Club's appreciation. Conner's relationship with the NYYC had long since been repaired after his devastating loss to Australia II in Newport in 1983, which snapped the NYYC's 132-year America's Cup winning streak.
"Dennis Conner has had more impact on sailing than any sailor in the world over the past four decades," NYYC Commodore A. Rives Potts Jr., a former America's Cup shipmate of Conner, said that night. "For those of us fortunate enough to sail with Dennis, we are all better sailors because of our time on board with DC."
Conner could be charming and he could be crusty. He had no trouble letting people know how he felt. One of his all-time lines came after his victory in the bizarre 1988 Cup, when he told designer Bruce Farr, "You little ... you're a loser. Get out of here."
Say what you will of the man, but he'd never, ever consider defending the America's Cup in an offshore tax haven.
"He is the ultimate team leader," the NYYC's Potts said in honoring Conner. "He never raises his voice and expects everyone to do his or her job in every situation without orders. His work ethic and preparation are unparalleled. His abilities to focus on boat speed, position on the course, sail selection and the location of every significant competitor are almost super human."
Conner won the Cup four times and lost it twice. His ninth and final campaign was in 2002-03. Time and the billionaires eventually passed him by.
His legacy is safe in the face of the slick America's Cup of today. And that should be celebrated.