Lost at Sea AMERICA3 Even if they win, members of the first all-woman team in America's Cup history have already lost their way. When they put a man on the boat, they sacrificed their indentity -- and dashed the dreams of a generation.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

San Diego -- Dawn Riley, standing at the door of the America3 training room, looks more like a boxer than the most famous female sailor in the world. Her hands, rubbed raw by ropes and nine solid months of sailing, are packed in ice and wrapped in white towels. She waves an enormous mitt at her teammates, then climbs behind the wheel of her Camaro and maneuvers gingerly off into the night.

Inside, Olympic rower Stephanie Maxwell-Pierson stretches out on a table for an ultrasound treatment on her right shoulder. "How much longer do I have to go? I just want to be mentally prepared," she explains, her voice muffled in the table's plastic cover. Nine minutes, comes the answer.

Susan Hemond-Dent, who grew up shagging fly balls in Chicago's Comiskey Park and snagged a spot on this team just 10 weeks ago, dashes in to rewrap a drooping ice pack. Then she's off to the locker room to replenish the toilet paper.

Helmsman Leslie Egnot, a bashful-looking woman with huge blue eyes beneath dark brown bangs, sips a beer and eats spiced beef jerky, provided by official sponsors of America3. She's waiting for a rub-down, then ice packs for her shoulders.

Fire and ice. This is the way 13-hour days end for the first all-woman crew to compete in the 144-year-old America's Cup. As a flag in their gym says, "Sail tough or go home."

It is March 13, the last week of practice before the America's Cup semifinals will begin. The physical price of racing is evident among bodies battered from repetitive and stressful motions: grinding winches, pulling ropes, gripping the wheel. The mental toll is less obvious, but it's there, too.

In just three weeks, the grand experiment that began a year ago -- and captured the interest of sailors and landlubbers alike -- could come to an abrupt end. To earn the right to defend the Cup against an international challenger in May, America3 still must survive the semifinals and the finals. Not an impossible task, but a daunting one for a team with a 5-16 record going into the semifinals.

Millionaire Bill Koch is the brains behind the first female team in Cup history -- a noble idea that happens to be a stroke of marketing genius. (He spent $70 million of his own money on his '92 effort; donations will underwrite the $20 million budget for this one.) But like a boy who launches a paper boat through spring-swollen gutters, Koch has set in motion something he no longer controls. America3 has become a feminist milestone, a team that transcends the sport: Like the all-pro hoopster "Dream Team" of the 1992 Olympics, America3 is charged with proving something to the world.

Sailing is a sport where women can compete equally with men. Strength will be important, yes. But no one ever muscled his way to an America's Cup. Technology, strategy, experience. Those will be the determining factors.

Technology. America3 has a new boat, Mighty Mary, and its speed may give the team an edge. Strength. America3 has weightlifters and world-class rowers, women who can bench-press their boyfriends. Strategy. America3 has the world's top sailors: international champions, Olympic medalists, including one at tactician, the brains of the boat. Experience. Well, that's the one area where America3 comes up short.

It is a Catch-22 familiar to women everywhere: You can't get the job because you lack the experience. You can't get the experience without the job. Few of these women have ever been on the 75-footers of Cup competition, boats so finely engineered for speed and weightlessness that one snapped in half just a week earlier and sank within minutes.

And that is the fourth factor, the most unpredictable of all: nature. The wind, the waves, the unexpected still spots in the middle of the ocean.

None of the teams can control nature, although it is human nature to try. Anything can be done, it seems, in the name of Winning.

The women of America3 prefer the label "athletes" to "feminists." They insist, "It's not about being a women's team. It's about being competitive" -- as if the two must be mutually exclusive.

But some of them, especially those for whom sailing is new, freely admit they are drawn by the chance to make history. This is the paradox at the heart of America3, pronounced "America-cubed." Their statements hint at the contradictions.

"If we win," more than one woman says in the exact same words, "it will be huge."

"It sounds trite," says Susanne Leech Nairn, who left Annapolis and a job as a NASA engineer to join the team, "but NASA was just a job, this is a dream."

Women everywhere, and some men, are sharing the dream. At sunset, as the sailboats return to the harbor, local people and tourists gather on a public dock to wave at the exhausted women. In the gym, where the women begin each day at 6:30, is a dried bouquet of roses from Glamour magazine, banners from open houses drawing thousands of supporters. "Women who seek equality with men lack ambition," says one message.

The team's appeal has spanned the globe and four generations. Fans as far away as France and Australia are following the team. Women ages 7 to 82 have penned their encouragement. "I'm 70, know little or nothing about sailing [but] I am so proud of you all!" said one writer. A 9-year-old girl who lives just a few miles from the compound, and who has followed one team member since the 1992 Olympics, sent her $5 allowance to aid the cause. Melanie Roberts, assigned to write a school report on an American heroine, chose the 28 women of America3. Her letter is taped to the gym wall. "Kick butt," she wrote.

But on March 18, the dream suffered the most unexpected of defeats. The women who longed for people to stop harping on the "women's team" concept didn't have to worry anymore: They sailed into the semifinals with a man on the boat -- and sailed right out of history.

"Some people call it a publicity gimmick," Susan Hemond-Dent, daughter of the Orioles general manager, had said of the "women's thing" two weeks before it ceased to exist. "I say I wouldn't spend a year of my life on a gimmick."

Tomorrow, the now Almost Women's Team will sail its last race in the semifinals. Fittingly, its competition for the second spot in the finals is the oldest of old boys on the sailing circuit, Dennis Conner -- who once dubbed America3 "Team Lesbo."

But one can argue that the Women's Team eliminated itself before the semifinals began. For once, it was over before it was over. The hot button of the '90s -- gender -- paid the way. The age-old adage of sports triumphed: Winning is the only thing.

In the din of sports cliches, it is difficult to hear, or even remember, another saying: In dreams begin responsibilities.

From the ground up

A little over a year ago, Diana Klybert strolled onto the grounds of what was to become the America3 compound, a patch of land on North Harbor Drive in Point Loma, just west of San Diego. Someone thrust a chainsaw in her hands and she went to work, helping build the secure facility necessary to the ever-paranoid syndicates of the America's Cup.

She was a little surprised to find herself there at all, much less with a power tool in hand. Born in the Chicago suburbs, Diana, then 35, would be among the oldest woman trying out for the team. She also had begun sailing at the relatively late age of 22, after considering careers in forestry and journalism.

Her brief ambition to write for National Geographic brought her to the University of Maryland at College Park. It says a lot about Diana's character that she chose a school near Washington because she wanted some daily newspaper experience upon graduation -- and presumed to get it at the Washington Post.

Instead, she went west, to Oregon, and discovered sailing.

"I couldn't believe how real the world of sailing was," she says. "For me, it's other-worldliness. Everything I need is on a boat. Except a dog."

She and a friend went to Maui, planning to vacation for two weeks, then look for work on a boat. Within 48 hours, they signed on to a crew.

The sailing world is a village spread across the globe, in ports from Annapolis to New Zealand. Diana went from Hawaii to Annapolis, spending her winters working on boats in warmer waters. She began to plug into the gossip-rich sailing grapevine. She even considered signing up for the all-woman crew that embarked on the Whitbread Round the World Race. Instead, she signed onto the Donnybrook, a boat spending last winter in the Caribbean.

One day, her skipper handed her a phone number: "Know anyone named Kimo? He tried to call you."

"Maybe some guy in Hawaii," she replied. She filed the number away, uninterested.

Three days later, she was in her bunk reading a magazine when the name jumped out at her: James "Kimo" Worthington, a member of the 1992 America's Cup team. She jumped off the boat and ran to the nearest telephone booth, her skipper tagging along out of curiosity. Perhaps the Whitbread needed a new crew member, she thought. Maybe she should go for it after all, join the race in progress.

Kimo Worthington asked if she were going to be free in the next six months. Why? she asked.

Diana scrawled the words "America's Cup" on a piece of paper and held them up to the glass for her skipper to see. Worthington wanted her to try out.

"How could someone know what my fantasy would be?" she marvels now.

Building the compound may not have been part of that fantasy, but Diana pitched in eagerly. There is seemingly no facet of sailing that does not interest her.

It is a sport with detailed rules on "Reconnaissance." Gossip and "bar talk" are allowed, but not long-range listening devices, satellites, submarines or "the use of discarded waste material from syndicate compounds." When Diana and the others finished last spring, the America3 compound was a series of white, prefabricated buildings, bordered by a chain-link fence plastered with "No Trespassing" signs. The docks were shrouded in black canvas, to shield the boats from spying eyes. Bill Koch supplied three Botero sculptures from his private collection, hoping the plump, overstated human figures would give the women a lift at day's end.

"Almost nothing was there when we started," she recalls, sweeping a long arm toward a now-distant shore. Diana is telling her story the week before the semifinals, from the stern of the Chubasco, a no-frills yacht that tows the sailboats out into the Pacific each day. She then boards a tender and rides out to the older boat, the one from the '92 Cup, which will put Mighty Mary, the team's new boat, through its paces.

In the America's Cup, there are 16 crew members on the competing boats, which are good for nothing but racing. There are no sleeping cabins on board, no bathrooms. (The women hang over the side, by a rope.)

Officially, there is no A team on America3. No one seems to have told the women this, however, as they speak constantly of the A team. By implication, Diana is on the B team, in the mast position. Her competition on the A team is her roommate and good friend, Joan Lee Touchette, who grew up in Columbia and learned to sail on the Chesapeake Bay.

It has become a cliche to note the overwhelming physical resemblance among the Cubens, as they call themselves. It's one of those cliches that happens to be true: most are blond and all are tanned, with big smiles and big muscles.

But Diana and Joan are particularly similar in appearance. Although they never met face-to-face until joining America3, they have been mistaken for one another for years in sailing circles. A man once hugged and kissed Diana, thinking she was Joan.

Eleven years apart, they have their differences. Diana is personable, with an effortless gregariousness that helps her move $95,000 worth of America3 merchandise in one hour on QVC. Joan is shyer, or perhaps just plain sick of the media grind. Cornered by a reporter, she rocks on the balls of her feet like a child forced to perform at her parents' dinner party. Polite, but yearning to be elsewhere.

"We've gotten to be good friends," she allows, referring to Diana. She has made several friends here, but the social life is more restrained than rumored. The partying nights that once followed their sailing days -- nights of flaming body shots and impromptu rhythm sections in local restaurants -- appear to be over. The women are last in the three-way race against Team Dennis Conner and Young America. "If you go out with us, you better be ready for a short evening," Joan says.

Then, in a burst of candor, she adds: "I suppose the big picture here, to an outsider, seems organized and relaxed. But the stress is on this week, and the pressure's up."

Egos and ids

The breeze is stiff, but the ocean waters just beyond the San Diego harbor are relatively calm. The women are practicing starts. A good start can rev a team up, give members a psychological boost. A bad one can dog an entire race. The two boats move up and back, following the right-of-way rules, trying to get to the start line just as the six-minute time limit expires. A gunshot marks the end of each practice start.

It looks remarkably easy, from the vantage point of Chubasco's stern. Even when the two boats draw alongside Chubasco, there is little sense of the physical effort involved. Stephanie Maxwell-Pierson could be wielding a rotary egg beater as she grinds away at the winch, raising and lowering sails.

Suddenly, one boat blocks the other, forcing it to a premature stop behind Chubasco.

"Did you see that?" asks Gloria Virego, the only woman on America3's shore crew. "You just saw a boat get snuffed."

A short, powerful woman, Gloria is a veteran of the all-female Whitbread 'Round the World team in 1993-1994, sailing alongside America3's Dawn Riley and Merritt Carey. But when the all-woman America's Cup team came up, she decided not to try out.

"After nine months on a boat with all women? No, thank you," she says emphatically. Besides, she liked the survival aspect of the Whitbread, the sheer endurance necessary to sail from continent to continent, working four hours on, four hours off. Match racing doesn't interest her as much.

But Dawn Riley called Gloria early this winter in Key West and said: "We need a woman on shore crew. It's not right to have all men on the crew." Gloria understood instantly, and flew to California to join the organization of more than 100 people.

The hierarchy of America3 is overwhelmingly male. Bill Koch, the brash outsider who won the cup in 1992, relies on men from that team to coach the women. He was the skipper on the first America3, but there would be no skipper on this team, he said, just a "starting rotation" of women to take the helm. The women, he said, were quicker to grasp his oft-repeated philosophy: "The only ego is the ego of the boat."

One hears so much about the ego of the boat that it becomes tempting to ask about its id and libido as well. What does this clever phrase really mean? On land, it seems to mean that the women are carefully controlled -- schooled to give the party line in interviews, sometimes cut off at press conferences.

Other syndicates have virtually no women. In 1992, America3 had 10 women in the organization and only one on the boat -- but not for the Cup itself.

Dawn Riley was that woman. She wasn't the first -- three other women had been aboard Cup boats as time-keepers -- but she was the first real sailor. She was onboard for the semifinals and finals but was taken off the boat for the Cup races. She has never spoken publicly about what happened. This time, if America3 defends the Cup, she won't have to worry about being left behind.

No Cuben argues as forcefully as Dawn that America3 is not about being a women's team. She already has her all-woman's credentials -- in two Whitbreads and a race just for women, the Santa Maria Cup. She is the Diana Ross of America3, looking back at a line she crossed long ago.

"I'm tired of people saying to women's teams, 'You didn't win, but that's OK,' " she says.

On land, Sandra Bateman, a one-time teacher and veteran of corporate public relations, sells the "women's thing." It's the hook for publicity -- from Southern California Dog Magazine to the Japanese version of Penthouse -- and money. According to America3, 2 billion people have been exposed to America3. Corporations, including Chevrolet, Glamour and L'Oreal, have contributed $10 million.

Inevitably, the first all-woman team brings a new issue to the ever-paranoid Cup: fraternization. On Chubasco's bridge, Alison

Hamilton scans the computers hooked up to the boats and runs through a list of "America's Cup couples." She is engaged to Chubasco's captain. Annie Nelson is married to Bruce Nelson, the boat designer for rival Young America. America3's tactician, Jennifer "J J" Isler, is married to ESPN sailing commentator Peter Isler. Susan Hemond-Dent's husband, Dick, is the Women's Team trainer and fitness director.

A third of the America3 sailors are married and most are in serious relationships. Three are mothers. But what about the single ones? Are they lectured about -- the term seems unavoidable -- pillow talk?

"Those were the very words that were spoken," Diana Klybert says. " 'Pillow talk.' And it was alluded that if there was any, get all the information you can from the other side.

"But this goes back to the fact that we're not the most attractive sailorettes at the end of the day. There's a lot of hat hair, and smelling of winch grease."

At the end of this particular day, however, most of the women change quickly into heels and their "uniforms" -- red blazers, white pants or skirts -- and -- for a bus to the USS Kitty Hawk, for dinner with the admiral and other naval officers. Their hair is wet, most wear no makeup. They look fabulous. Like Junior Leaguers. Very strong, muscular Junior Leaguers.

One of the 'guy-gals'

Susan Hemond-Dent has a deep, hoarse voice and an almost flower-like prettiness to which she seems completely indifferent. She is, in her words, a "guy-gal." A tomboy, a woman schooled in the importance of winning.

Born in Milwaukee, the oldest of five children, Susan grew up talking baseball around the dinner table. When her father was working with the White Sox, she and her siblings took the "El" to Comiskey Park and played on the field until batting practice started.

Now a free-lance assistant television director, Susan lives on a boat with her husband, Dick, and commutes in a small camper to cover sporting events in Los Angeles. She is waiting for Dick this evening in Old Venice, one of several Point Loma restaurants that offers a deal to America's Cup sailors. They need the 50 percent discounts, if only because they eat twice as much as most people.

Susan had little to offer America3 when the women's team was formed: not enough sailing experience for some positions, not enough upper-body strength for the others. But she was determined to join the team, especially after volunteering in 1992, when her husband served as trainer for the first America3 team.

She is a world-class endurance athlete who two years ago was the only woman member of a five-person team that entered the Raid Gauloises in Madagascar. The event required her to sky dive, climb cliffs, hike through the desert, canoe and kayak. It was the second time she competed. Her team came in ninth.

"If we had been 11th," she says, "if we hadn't been in the top 10, I'd be training for another one right now."

Back in San Diego last summer, she was virtually unemployed because of the baseball and hockey strikes. It worked to her advantage, giving her more time to volunteer for the Women's Team. They added her to the roster in January, on her 35th birthday. She was hired as a back- up sewerman, a glamourless, below-deck job stowing and retrieving sails. There was one caveat: She would have to continue her volunteer duties as well, everything from cleaning locker rooms to helping with physical therapy.

A brief notice of her selection in the newspaper prompted a letter of congratulations from Melanie Roberts, America3's self-professed No. 1 fan. Melanie has followed the team closely -- quite literally.

She tracked down Merritt Carey in Pizza Nova. She found Dawn Riley, Joan Lee Touchette and Lisa Charles in Baskin-Robbins, with the biggest bowls of ice cream Melanie had ever seen. She got their autographs on torn pieces of notebook paper, pasting them in a scrapbook of newspaper and magazine clippings.

In January, Melanie added a letter from Susan Hemond-Dent to her book. She's partial to the local women on the team -- Susan, Annie Nelson and J J Isler, the tactician. Melanie has corresponded with J J since 1992, when she won a bronze medal in the Olympics. When J J had a baby girl in October 1993, Melanie sent her a recording of baby songs. Now J J sings "My Mommy Comes Back" on the morning tow-outs.

Melanie began sailing at age 7, when her mother signed her up for the San Diego Yacht Club's Junior Sailing program. J J started the same way, at the same age.

This winter, she wrote Melanie about how much math is involved in the tactician's job: "So study hard and keep sailing."

"Here she is, in the middle of all this, and she sits down and hand writes a letter to a little girl," marvels Melanie's mother, Jill Roberts.

When Melanie wanted to buy a model of the America3 boat in the team's retail store, Susan used her 40 percent employee's discount to help. Melanie, with her freckles and red-brown braid, is a guy-gal in training.

What's the ratio of guy-gals to gal-gals on America3? "I'll let Dick answer that," Susan says. But when Dick Dent arrives for dinner, he declines. He talks instead about the differences between men's and women's teams, between 1992 and 1995.

"The emotional swings have been fairly detrimental in the long run," he says. "The women are more emotional. Sometimes too emotional."

Susan interjects: "That's a big issue that should have resolved itself by now."

Are we talking about crying? Dick Dent's face takes on a baffled expression. The same look flits across other men's faces in the America3 effort from time to time. They're trying so hard to be . . . sensitive.

"I made one cry today," he says, still looking baffled. "I made one cry two weeks ago."

Susan says: "It's not the Good Ship Lollipop."

Easy enough for a guy-gal to say. But Susan says she was brought up to cry, to let it out and then go on. She then tells a story about a session with the team psychologist, who asked each woman to write down what she thought would help the team.

"I wrote, 'Just win. Winning solves a lot of problems.' "

Sailing tough

On March 17, the day before the semifinals begin, the women get a reprieve from their 6:30 a.m. workouts. Instead, they assemble at 8 a.m. for a "family" breakfast at the compound, surrounded by coaches and support crew. The women range in age from 22 to 36, in weight from 112 to almost 200 pounds.

It has been a good week, a week without the rains that have dogged California this winter. They're beginning to feel comfortable in Mighty Mary, in the water just 15 days. The women have come in from practices flushed and energetic, excited by their progress. There are rumors that their opponent tomorrow, Young America, first in the standings among the would-be defenders, may have sustained irreparable damage from a wave that crashed across the boat, knocking it out of practice all week.

Inside and outside the America3 compound, people dare to hope for anything that would work to the team's advantage. The news about Young America gives Melanie Roberts something positive to dwell on as she packs her Women's Team T-shirt and sailing scrapbooks.

Troubled by a rare foot disorder, she will spend the weekend at Children's Hospital. She won't be able to follow the race on television the next day, so she'll rely on newspaper accounts. More articles to clip and paste. But she'll be home before the two-week racing series ends this Saturday and plans to hook a ride on America3's spectator boat, for the third time. Maybe she could be the 17th man, the extra person taken along for the ride. Maybe she will sail in the Cup herself one day.

That was J J Isler's dream. It was Dawn Riley's. Dreams that began early, like Melanie's. It was Diana Klybert's dream, too, when she started sailing at the old age of 22. It may be the only thing all the women have in common, now -- except, of course, for their gender.

"I'm the common man," Diana has said. "The team everywoman." The woman who came late to sailing, now sailing alongside country club habitues and girls who were on boats before they were in school.

As the team settles down to breakfast, John Kolius, a visiting coach and consultant, asks them to close their eyes. Now, he says, envision how far you've come in the past year. Diana's eyes mist over as she ducks her head.

The wind shifts

Race days or not, the women still have to work out. On the first morning of the semifinals, they warm up by walking along the streets of Point Loma with Bill Koch, who often joins their workouts when in town. Extremely tall, he is not dwarfed by the women, as most ordinary mortals are. But his legs, exposed in shorts, look larval, his pallor unhealthy amid so many rosy faces.

About 9:30, reporters and photographers begin gathering at the Louis Vuitton Media Center for the race between Mighty Mary and Young America. The day is gray and the wind is light, only 4 knots.

"It tends to pick up later in the day," one veteran photographer says.

In fact, things pick up 10 minutes later, with this announcement over the public address system: "The rumors have been confirmed. Dave Dellenbaugh will be starting as tactician on Mighty Mary today."

Dave Dellenbaugh. He was on the 1992 America3 team. By all accounts, he is a brilliant tactician, adored by the women of this year's team. By all accounts, he also is a man.

The buzz throughout the media center is ugly and insistent. "Tainted." "A lose-lose situation." "It's Koch." "Koch panicked." "Koch." "Koch."

The cynical British press is already calling it the Almost Women's Team. J J Isler, the Olympic bronze medalist in sailing, is nowhere to be seen.

Bill Koch, in a press release faxed to the center, describes the decision to make a substitution for the "brains" of the boat: "This change will allow the team to sail further into history and to gain experience previously denied to women on the world-class circuit . . . I believe adding Dave to the boat will give them the confidence they need to take them all the way to the Cup."

But the change works no magic in this first race. Mighty Mary falls behind Young America by 1 minute, 31 seconds, when a sail tears. The team struggles gamely and closes the gap to 32 seconds by the race's end.

One day, seven races to go. America3 is still in last place. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.

"Tempest in a teapot"

Post-race press conferences for the America's Cup are held in a large tent, a suitable site for a circus.

Journalists from throughout the world file inside, waiting for representatives from Mighty Mary and Young America. Just off the water, the sailors come straight from their respective compounds to a slightly elevated dais, the one bright spot in the dark room.

Dawn Riley walks out first, followed by Leslie Egnot and Bill Koch. Kevin Mahaney, the winning skipper, also is there. No one seems to care.

Bill Koch is not a popular person in San Diego, where he has publicly disparaged the local yacht club. He also is a juicy target for the press, given his fondness for grand pronouncements. Journalists from throughout the world lie in wait, looking for any small discrepancy on which to pounce. When was the decision made? Who made it? One journalist twits him about going with a "rock star" -- one of the few sailing terms easily grasped by a non-sailor.

The millionaire explains, then explains again. Women had come to him this week, asking for changes on the boat. He won't say how many, or which ones. There wasn't a vote, however. He made the call.

"I don't know of any dissension," he says. "One woman was on Chubasco, arguing with me for 45 minutes, but she kissed me at the end."

If anyone needs convincing that the rich are different, Bill Koch could be persuasive. He is so rich, he can afford his own reality. After a year of bragging about his all-women's team, he shrugs off the furor about its coed status as "a tempest in a teapot." He says the sponsors don't care -- not even a sponsor with a contractual guarantee that no men be added. Again, he won't name names.

Dawn Riley backs him up. "We've gone from, 'Wow, it's an all-women's team" -- she holds out her hand, and slashes a downward stroke in the air -- "to being kind of a joke" -- she cuts up again -- to "maybe, maybe, maybe we can win this thing. Everybody's so into it, that it was a big deal. We gave Dave a L'Oreal hat, with a sunflower on it."

Her teammates are lost in the shadows at the back of the tent. Diana Klybert looks curious and alert, but betrays no emotion about the morning's turn of events. Gloria Virego sits back with her arms folded across her chest, frowning slightly.

From the beginning, Koch had said women were ideal for his crew because women intuitively understand his idea "there is no greater ego than the ego of the boat." Now he complains he can't bring the women's egos up to the ego of the boat. They are still too tentative, too eager to find consensus before making decisions.

Finally, someone has a question for Kevin Mahaney: Does he think America3 needed to replace J J Isler?

The Young America skipper says: "I thought tactically they've been doing a nice job. J J was doing a good job placing the boat on the water."

J J had not learned of her replacement until that morning. She cried, although it's hard to think of this as a female thing: Men cry, too, when they get cut from teams. She declines interviews, letting her husband speak for her. "I think Bill wants to win more than having an all-women team," Peter Isler tells the local paper. "J J was pretty devastated."

And how about the rest of the women? Were there tears? Dawn Riley shrugs. "It's a women's team. There are always tears, good and bad."

'I could kill Bill Koch'

For a 9-year-old, Melanie Roberts is tough. She can get a shot in her hip without flinching, as she is doing now, in her bed at Children's Hospital. Next door, a child just out of surgery is keening, a heart-breaking sound.

It is Sunday, the day-after-Dellenbaugh, a rest day for the team.

"I feel like I would kill Bill Koch," Melanie says. "They were doing fine. He's not doing as good a job as J J."

She looks forlorn and a little mystified. It wouldn't happen this way in the movies, or a Disney cartoon. Art gives us games won on the final pitch, races won at the last second, teams true to their origins. If this were a movie, the only substitution made on the women's boat would have been someone from the back- up team -- someone who had worked hard and earned the spot, an underdog. Susan Hemond-Dent might have ended up working in the sewer. Or Diana Klybert would have taken over the mast.

Melanie's mother, Jill, seems almost as disappointed as her daughter. She says: "Last night, before I knew what had happened, I saw one of the woman in Vons --"

"Which one?" Melanie interrupts, brightening a little, still intrigued by the team she has followed so closely. Her mother can't say.

"I could kill Bill Koch," Melanie repeats.

In dreams begin responsibilities. Melanie dreams of her own America's Cup race, her own crew. No men, she says. She is quite adamant on that point. Thirteen years from now, when she is the same age as the youngest women on America3, a female team might still have a chance to make history.

Her mother asks: "What if Bill Koch changed his mind, admitted he made a mistake and put J J back on the boat?"

Melanie is a child of the '90s. This isn't her first disappointment in life, but it's one she will remember. She's been betrayed.

What if he went back to an all-women's team?

"Yeah, right," Melanie says, peering up at her mother from beneath the bill of her cap. It's a new hat, one she donned just this morning. White, a little too big for her, and emblazoned with the logo of Young America.

Sailing on

Young America has clinched its spot in the finals. The Maine-based team continues to win more races and attract less attention than its high-profile rivals. The fight for second place has come down to technology and luck. Tomorrow, the Almost Women's Team, still sailing with a Y chromosome, will meet Team Dennis Conner, sailing with a new keel.

The women of America3, well-schooled in public relations, are presenting a united front. No one has gone on record as opposing the team's coed status. No one walked out.

One member, Anna Seaton Huntington, wrote an article for the New York Times defending the integrated Cubens, while conceding the decision was the ultimate rock-and-a-hard-place situation: "We are taking a calculated, and extremely painful, risk. We are compromising between two bottom lines -- the integrity of remaining an all-women's team and winning."

On the America3 compound, tourists still come and go. They peek through the fence at the gym and the docks, and laugh at the three Botero statues, much as Bill Koch had hoped the women would laugh at the end of the day. Tourists browse in the gift shop, where items inscribed "The Women's Team" sell better than those simply marked "America3."

The T-shirts, at $16, are among the least expensive items. On the most popular one, Rosie the Riveter flexes her bicep, promising: "We can do it."

People are still buying it. But is anyone really buying it?

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