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Slow start in trials puzzles Conner

In the America's Cup world of fast greyhound sailboats, Dennis Conner apparently has come up with an ordinary household dog.

Conner hauled his Stars and Stripes from the water Wednesday to search for answers as to why it has performed so poorly in the trial races.

Conner got permission from the America's Cup Defense Committee to remove the boat, and his opponent, Bill Koch, agreed. Conner will be allowed to make changes in his boat, such as moving the keel or the mast.

Conner, who wrote the book No Excuse to Lose hasn't been able to win under routine America's Cup trial conditions. Cup buffs and Conner trackers have been mystified as to why the four-time Cup winner can't do better in the current two-boat races.

Stars and Stripes is the only boat Conner is racing _ one is all his investor syndicate financed. Koch, a Florida multimillionaire, is rotating two boats in the races against Stars and Stripes (Koch has a third boat available and is building a fourth). On Tuesday, Koch beat Conner while sailing America. Koch will sail Defiant against Conner today. High winds, gusting to 30 knots, canceled Wednesday's race.

So Conner, the world's most famous Cup skipper, finds himself in deep trouble. That is somewhat of a surprise. Conner's Stars & Stripes was believed to be so fast in the Cup fleet championship last spring that he withdrew it after a few races, lest the opposition try stealing its speed secret.

Now, efforts to change keel shape, move the mast position or make other alterations, would raise doubts about the future.

There still is enough racing left in the competition for Conner to get back into it. The points are awarded this way:

The defender selection racing is based on five series of races over a period of three months. Koch won the first series. The second is in progress.

Victories are weighted as the competition continues, so that more points are awarded as the races progress. The winner of the first round series received one point, two points are awarded for the second round, and four points in the third. The most points are awarded for the fourth round, which is in effect the semifinal round. So Conner still has time to build up points.