Congressional Cup surprise

Top match racer signs up for Congressional Cup at 11th hour

Tuesday April 9th 2002, Author: Shawn McBride, Location: United States
Guess who's coming to sail at the 38th Congressional Cup?

Chris Dickson, recently placed on a leave of absence with the Oracle Racing America's Cup team training in Auckland, arrived unannounced at the Long Beach Yacht Club midday on Monday to join his younger brother Scott as tactician.

The boats had already left the harbor to practice, but Dickson immediately jumped on a chase boat to join Scott, a Long Beach resident representing the host club.

Chris Dickson deflected questions about whether he had or needed permission from Oracle to participate in others events, as Paul Cayard has after he was consigned to shoreside duties late last year. "I'm not here to talk about Oracle," Dickson said after returning from the water. "I'm here to help the little brother through the week."

Chris Dickson, formerly the world's top-ranked match racer, won the Congressional in 1990 and 1991 and called tactics for Scott when the latter finished second in '98. Although Chris won't be driving, his presence gives the event five former winners on the 10 boats, along with Holmberg ('98, '99 and '01), Rod Davis ('81, '85, '89 and '93), Gavin Brady ('97-'97) and Dean Barker (2000).

The fleet, with their affiliations and new and previous ISAF rankings stands as follows:

Peter Holmberg, Oracle Racing, 1 (2);
Jes Gram-Hansen, Denmark, 3 (5);
Luc Pillot, Le Defí Areva, 7 (7);
Gavin Brady, Prada, 8 (8);
Dean Barker, Team New Zealand, 18 (19);
Ed Baird, USA, 19 (18);
Rod Davis, Prada, 23 (39);
Andy Green, GBR Challenge, 31 (30);
Ken Read, Team Dennis Conner, 38 (46);
Scott Dickson, USA, unranked.

The man to beat at the Congressional Cup will be Peter Holmberg, who following the recently Steinlager/Line 7 match racing in Auckland, rose to first place in the ISAF world match racing rankings and the Swedish Match Tour, which now includes the Congressional Cup. Although from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Holmberg says he is almost as much at home in Long Beach, and not only because he has won three of the last four Congressionals.

"I trained here for the '84 Olympics," he said, "lived here for six months. For me, it's familiar territory. It's in the back of your mind that you've done it here before, but it's not going to get you through."

Another team familiar with Long Beach is the Stars & Stripes entry, skippered by Ken Read. With Long Beach also serving as the domestic training base for Stars & Stripes, Dennis Conner’s challenge knows the local conditions well.

"The fact is, this is my home away from home," said Read. "We really like the people and the sailing conditions are excellent. If I could make a choice about where to train for the America’s Cup, I wouldn’t choose anywhere else."

After an active month of racing, Read has recently reacquainted himself with the Catalina 37 racing yachts used at the Congressional Cup, engaging in several sparring sessions with fellow Stars & Stripes teammates off the end of Belmont Pier in Long Beach. Add to that the fact that Read carries 1992 Congressional Cup winner Terry Hutchinson on-board as tactician, and the Americans are strong contenders to hoist the Cup at Saturday evening's prize giving ceremony.

A possible wild-card at this year's event is Denmark’s Jes Gram-Hansen who is still riding high from his appearance in last month’s Steinlager Line 7 Cup final, the first of his career on the Swedish Match Tour. Gram-Hansen’s presence here brings to an end a whirlwind month of travel.

"We've flown across 44 combined time zones over the last couple of weeks and experienced daylight savings time changes in Auckland, Denmark and here," said Gram-Hansen. "Needless to say we're a little tired, but excited to be here for the first time and looking forward to a good result".

The Catalina 37s, introduced in the 1990 Congressional Cup, are the unique on the world match racing circuit - they are the biggest boats and the only ones with
steering wheels instead of tillers. Equipped with masthead jibs, their straight-line speed is not extraordinary, but they are extremely agile for the pre-start jousting unique to match racing.

Each boat will have a crew of five, including the skipper/helmsman. They will sail a double round robin climaxing with best-of-three semifinals and finals this Saturday.

The action in the Long Beach outer harbor may be viewed from the end of Belmont Pier, where there will be shoreside commentry designed to give spectators a blow by blow account of what they are seening out on the water.

For the next five days from today, they will compete on Catalina 37s against crews from six America's Cup teams---including defending champion Peter Holmberg, representing Oracle.

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