The oldest and most prestigious match-racing event in the United States is the first U.S. contest on the Swedish Match Tour, the world's leading professional sailing series, and the fifth on Swedish Match Tour 2001/2002.
The lineup is topped by Sweden's Magnus Holmberg and Peter Holmberg (no relation) of the U.S. Virgin Islands, currently ranked 1-2 on the Swedish Match Tour and in the world match race rankings of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). In his only prior appearance in the Congressional Cup, Magnus tied for eighth with Italy's Francesco de Angelis in 1998. Peter, the current Swedish Match Tour money leader with $28,400, won that title and two more Congressional Cups since.
This one won't be any easier. With the Louis Vuitton challenger trials only six months hence, the America's Cup teams will be fine-tuning their tactics.
Peter Holmberg, a member of the Oracle America's Cup campaign, said, "We feel it keeps us current on our opponents' skills, our strengths and weaknesses as a team and the current rules."
The Congressional Cup is contested in sturdy Catalina 37s designed for match racing. Like AC boats, they have steering wheels, not tillers. Holmberg will face, among others, 2000 winner Dean Barker of Team New Zealand, '98 and '99 winner Gavin Brady, now with Italy's Prada, and the Congressional's only four-time winner, Rod Davis, also with Prada.
Oh his rivals Holmberg said, diplomatically, "All solid players, so it's tough to call one stronger than another."
But Scott Dickson didn't mind climbing out on a limb. Dickson, the 31-year-old hometown hope who placed second in 1998, is one of only two competitors without AC affiliation, along with France's 10th-ranked Luc Pillot. Dickson, who qualified by winning the local Ficker Cup, sized up the fleet.
Magnus Holmberg (ranked No. 1), Victory Challenge, Sweden: "I was at the Swedish Match Cup in Sweden last year and his consistency was impressive to watch--very aggressive and clinical at the same time. There's a reason he's number one. He'll be a force if he can figure out the 37s pretty quick, which I'm sure won't be a problem."
Peter Holmberg (2), Oracle Challenge: "At the top of his game right now. Has to have a lot of confidence sailing in Long Beach. Anybody that races them on day one had better be ready."
Dean Barker (8), Team New Zealand: "Very aggressive, and the team that he brings with him is a great strength."
Gavin Brady (18), Prada Challenge: "Knows the area, knows the boats-feels very comfortable in Long Beach. I think he's managed to channel the aggression."
Rod Davis (34), Prada Challenge: "I sailed against Rod Davis with my father Roy back in 1843 or so. No, seriously, being part of Prada and training with Gavin will only make them both stronger."
Morten Henriksen (19), illbruck Challenge: "He's involved with illbruck and has been racing against Magnus Holmberg and the other top Europeans. Have to take him seriously."
Luc Pillot (10), France: "He may not have the golden scoreboard of a Dean Barker or either of the Holmbergs, but Luc is always there. With all the pressure on the America's Cup teams, he might be a darkhorse."
Ken Read (41), Stars & Stripes Challenge: "His team is currently training around Long Beach. Their ability to practice in the venue is a huge strength and will give him a jump start."
Andy Green (33), GBR Challenge: "Andy has a lot of talent and competes all around the circuit. With the backing of a solid AC team he'll be a factor."
Scott Dickson, Long Beach: "No pressure on him. Never intimidated. I have the luxury of going in against guys that are ranked about 300 places higher than I am. But I don't think, with the exception of skippers I haven't raced against, there is anybody that I haven't beaten at some time or another."
Prize money for the Congressional Cup will amount to US$25,000. The top eight finishers receive Swedish Match Tour Championship Prize points. The top eight point leaders at the conclusion of the Swedish Match Tour divide a US$200,000 prize purse, with the Swedish Match Tour champion receiving US$60,000.