Breakages have seen the America’s Cup challenge yachting fleet dwindle to 10, and it was almost reduced to nine yesterday when Stars & Stripes suffered severe damage to its stern.

While Team Dennis Conner are talking up their chances of getting back on the race course with Stars and Stripes, the game is over for the Swiss.

Be Happy broke its mast on Friday, and the cash-strapped Swiss do not have a spare. Yesterday were forced out of their first America’s Cup campaign after accepting their only spar, lying in three pieces, could not be fixed.

Stars & Stripes were to take their boat apart to assess the damage and begin repairs after being told they must be back racing by Wednesday or they will start losing points. Skipper Dennis Conner said the hull was not damaged and he was confident the boat would race again.

The damage happened when a bulkhead tore loose from the stern, tearing the deck off the hull and catapulting Conner’s guest and dentist Dr Merritt Barber into the air and into a mainsheet grinder. Dr Barber was not seriously hurt, but the boat was badly damaged and was immediately towed back to base.

Conner, who was not on the boat, said the cause of the failure was not known, but he speculated a minor collision with a television boat on Saturday might have caused some cracks in the carbon structure.

“The whole works just folded up like a tincan,” Conner said. “It’s a serious fracture. It’s never fun to go through these with the America’s Cup and fortunately, or unfortunately, for me I’ve had my share of them — my boat breaking in half and losing the keel and breaking masts.

“I guess it’s just part of the America’s Cup which makes you realise how nice it is when things go well.”

“It’s hard to know exactly what causes this sort of thing. But we hit a TV boat right there in that part of our boat, and it’s a coincidence to me that we can sail in 35 knots and quite rough seas going into this, then all of a sudden in smooth seas and relatively moderate wind it would fail today. “So it’s possible that we did some damage and when we looked we didn’t spot it because it’s hard to see all these little fractures. “I’m comfortable the boat will be just fine when prepared properly.”

Team Dennis Conner spokesman Bill Trenkle said the crew had been worried about losing the mast when the supports broke, but the rig was able to be stabilised.

One of the crew became very ill soon after the incident, and was taken to hospital with suspected food poisoning.

When the boat does return to racing, it will still be without Conner, who has not sailed on Stars & Stripes since the first round-robin.

He has put in place a skilled afterguard, with helmsman Ken Read, and Peter Isler, Peter Holmberg and Tom Whidden.

“I’m pretty comfortable with the way things have been going, and while we haven’t proved to be the fastest boat out there yet, I think we’re making some strides and closing some distances. “I don’t see any reason to change it at this point.”

The team were given two days to repair their boat, a standard time frame under the racing rules, which also require that Stars & Stripes forfeit their first race after the damage happened.

That means Conner loses nine points against Luna Rossa, far better than losing points against a close rival for one of the six semifinal berths.

Stars & Stripes is fifth on the table, and their first match back is scheduled against Young America, currently seventh, though there are doubts whether the boat will be fixed by Wednesday.

Ironically, the Swiss boat Be Happy suffered similar damage in the first round-robin, and its technical crew were yesterday offered to Stars & Stripes if needed, because Switzerland’s first America’s Cup is over.

Swiss skipper Marc Pajot announced the campaign was quitting the challenger series because it could not repair its mast.

“The game is over for us,” Pajot said. “(Sunday’s) not a very happy day f