by Rob Kothe
The villain, who stood between Australia and the Cup for many years, is in the middle of his ninth campaign to win yachting's most famous trophy.
Conner won the cup four times, in 1974, 1980, 1987 and 1988, and lost it twice, in 1983 and 1995.
Big Bad Dennis is sailing again for the New York Yacht Club, almost 20 years after he lost the cup to Australia II in 1983.
The loss ended the New York club's 132-year stranglehold on the Auld Mug.
Talking yesterday to an audience of yachties and businessmen at yesterday’s Air New Zealand luncheon at Sydney Tattersalls Club the 60 year old sailor is still passionate about the America’s Cup.
‘Me losing after 132 years was the best thing that ever happened to the America's Cup and the best thing that ever happened to Dennis Conner,'
‘Before the win by the Australians, the America's Cup was only big in the minds of the yachties, but the rest of the world didn't know or care about it at all. But when we lost it… it was a little bit like losing the Panama Canal - suddenly everyone appreciated it.
If I hadn't lost it, there never would have been the national effort to get it back in Fremantle, and without that there never would have been the ticker-tape parade up Fifth Avenue in New York, lunch with the President at the White House and all the doors of opportunity that it opened...’
Asked how he felt after that historic loss. ‘It was awful. I just did not want to get out of bed in the morning. I am usually full of like and energy. . I just wanted to hide. But I figured out that I just had to get it back and that mission is what got me going again.’
After winning the cup back in Fremantle in 1987 then came the farcical defence in San Diego.
He sailed a 70+ foot Cat, and his Kiwi competitors had a 90-foot monohull he called a Dog.
Then everyone sat down and draw up a sensible set of rules. After that Conner saw victory go to the New Zealanders in a fair fight and then the Kiwis Black Magic sailed the Challenger Prada off the course in the last series.
Back in Auckland again, with the New York Yacht Club for whom he had historically lost it.
‘They did not like me for a long time, after all I was that big fat loser, but they’ve not been able to mount a good campaign without me, so now we are back together.'
Conner explains that only two campaigns are without a B. His and the Kiwis.
'B’s ...Billionaires. Usually there is one billionaire in each campaign. This time there are seven billionaires to race against. We have four of the top 50 richest men in the world and two of the top 10.'
Conner is not on the wheel of Stars and Stripes, but is acting as campaign manager. It has been his name and reputation that has gathered together the large group of Corporate sponsors who have produced the NYYC effort.
Who does he think will win the Challenger series?
Well, if it comes to December and his Stars and Stripes is not in the contest. After yesterday's loss to Prada that is looking increasingly likely.
‘I’d have to put my money on Russell Coutts, he is the best sailor in the world. The Alinghi team knows the gulf and they have a B behind them.’
Almost to reinforce those comments as Conner was talking in Sydney, Russell Coutts skippering the Swiss Alinghi, beat Australia’s own James Spithill and the OneWorld crew in a close race yesterday afternoon.