Dennis Conner - master on a mission

T-shirt commemorating Dennis Conner, one of the great characters of the America’s Cup. Between 1987 and 2003 he sailed a series of racing yachts named Stars & Stripes. The image also shows a copy of Kit Hinrich’s Stars & stripes (Chronicle Books, 1987), a book celebrating the American flag which Conner has signed.

Dennis Conner accused the 1986–7 New Zealand challengers of ‘cheating’ by building KZ 7 out of fibreglass rather than aluminium. He became ‘Dirty Den’ to many Kiwis – the American we loved to hate. Following the ‘Big Boat’ challenge of 1988 he was at it again, calling defeated Kiwi skipper David Barnes a ‘loser’.

His behaviour did much to increase interest in the cup, as many Kiwis wanted to ‘wipe the smile off his face’. In 1989 the very first Holmes show began with host Paul Holmes asking Conner to to apologise for comments he had made about New Zealand’s 1987 and 1988 America’s Cup skippers. Conner was goaded into storming out of the studio, giving Holmes the publicity he sought.

Conner was without peer in cup history, earning the nickname ‘Mr America’s Cup’.  He won the cup series four times, successfully defending the Auld Mug in 1974, 1980 and 1988, and winning as the challenger in 1987 after being at the helm when the New York Yacht Club lost the trophy for the first time in 1983.

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