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Foreign yacht teams anticipate Cup races, ship off to Australia

Yachting's big spenders are already well entrenched in Perth, state capital of Western Australia. The trials that launch the 26th series of America's Cup races don't begin until October, yet some prospective challengers have already been making preparations for more than a year in anticipation of the triennial event. Three of the 10 United States contingents, for example, are by now well ensconced in the remote but modern metropolis of 900,000 people on Australia's Indian Ocean coast.

It will be early to mid-February next year when the actual America's Cup challenge takes place. The New York Yacht Club, stunned in 1983 when custodianship of the trophy was lost to Australia after 132 years, says it will spend ``whatever it takes'' to retrieve the America's Cup for the United States.

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The club has bought a 21-apartment residential building for use by its personnel and is having its own yacht basin constructed near Fremantle (Perth's port, off which the races will be held). Robert Stone, the club's commodore, envisions a $15 million expenditure on the New York Yacht Club challenge.

Dennis Conner, skipper of the defeated US defender in 1984 and commodore of the San Diego Yacht Club, supervised his club's acquisition of another location, and the Yale-Corinthian Yacht Club, which is led by chairman Leonard Greene, has also leased local dock space.

Other challengers include clubs from Canada, New Zealand, Britain, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and West Germany. A group of four Italian clubs has reputedly persuaded backers to part with $50 million to finance its challenge. And what of Australia?

Millionaire Alan Bond, whose Australia II did the supposedly impossible and took the trophy at Newport, R.I., is his country's favorite, with Australia III. But there are nine Australian syndicates in the running. Any of their boats could win elimination races. It's even possible that Australia II -- the toast of Perth and, indeed, of all Australia -- could displace the newer Australia III and represent its country for a second time. As Bond sees it, ``Australia II could prove faster than them all, and if that happens she'll defend the cup she won.''

The Royal Perth Yacht Club's race committee has devised a course that differs from Newport's: There will be eight legs of 3.25 nautical miles rather than six of 4.5. Committee executive director Noel Robins believes that ``a tighter course will make for more exciting racing.'' He contends that ``more marks will have to be rounded, which means more tactical moves and, therefore, a greater test for crews.''

A big difference between Newport and Fremantle: The former is tidal and current-swept, while the latter possesses mininal currents and tidal differences. On the other hand, it has a famous southwesterly wind that averages 17 knots in the Southern Hemisphere summer, when the racing will take place.

Foreign teams will be testing the winds and waters increasingly in coming months, and many of them are on hand to compete in the 12-meter world championships that provide something of a cup preview.

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While the teams plan, tourism officials are busy preparing for a predicted bonanza. No fewer than five international standard hotels are being added to the Perth skyline, extra international flights are scheduled, and Perth city fathers forecast that $1.5 billion will flow into the city and neighboring Fremantle because of the race.

To boost tourism, an international festival of sport begins early in September -- everything from golf to baseball -- and climaxes in the Jan. 31-Feb. 14 races.

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