It has been three years since Businessman Alan Bond and his Australia II broke the 132-year U.S. hold on the America's Cup and put it in a bulletproof glass case in the Royal Perth Yacht Club. Barely a month after that defeat, the first Americans showed up in Perth, followed since by yachtsmen from five other nations, all of them plotting how to wrest the Cup from the Aussies. Last week the joust began.
A record 13 challenging 12-meter yachts--hulls gleaming, sails taut and design breakthroughs as secret as possible--launched a series of up to 255 heats off Fremantle, Perth's port city. Six American syndicates want the chance to confront the Australian defender in the finals at the end of the southern summer next February. So do two teams each from France and Italy, as well as entries from Britain, Canada and New Zealand, whose unique fiber-glass boat was doing well enough last week to draw a protest. This week four Australian boats, including another of Bond's, will begin competing for the honor of defending the Cup.
The most promising U.S. entries include the San Diego-based Stars & Stripes '87, skippered by Dennis Conner, who does not want to be remembered only as the man who lost in 1983, and America II, sponsored by the New York Yacht Club, which previously defended the Cup. By the end of the grueling four-month test of skill and technology, an estimated $150 million will have been spent by all hands to determine where America's Cup spends the next three years.