Berntsson gets the crimson jacket

Swedish crew come through to clinch the Congressional Cup

Sunday March 29th 2009, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United Kingdom
They hugged and slapped high fives, sprayed champagne all over the boat and smiled like the Northern Lights. So much for Swedish reserve, and why not let it all go? Johnie Berntsson and his crew are the first team from Sweden - or all of Scandinavia for that matter - to win the Long Beach Yacht Club's Congressional Cup in its 45 years as a traditional match racing classic.

"We are very happy," said Berntsson. "We were very lucky, too."

In truth, they made most of their own luck in a remarkable recovery from a mediocre start climaxed by a 2-0 sweep of Italy's Francesco Bruni in the best-of-three finals Saturday. That followed a 2-1 win over France's Mathieu Richard in the semifinals after what appeared to be the Swedes' clinching 24-second victory was tossed out on a damage penalty on Berntsson's pre-start foul. He canceled the foul while drawing one off Richard before the start, but later learned he'd have to do it all over again.

"I knew there was a collision," Berntsson said, "but I couldn't see anything."

Apparently, both Catalina 37s suffered when Berntsson's bow bashed Richard's hull. Chief Umpire Alfredo Ricci said, "Berntsson turned to bow-down at 90 degrees. It was a T-bone."

Unfazed and cool, the Swedes came right back to win again by 33 seconds, as Bruni dispatched the USA's Terry Hutchinson in two straight. That dropped both of the former winners - Hutchinson in 1992, Richard in 2007- out of contention and opened the door for a new nationality on the historic list of winners.

Berntsson, 36, won 11 of his last 13 races after starting 4-7, and the most dramatic was his first win over Bruni, who had led almost the entire two laps around the half-mile windward-leeward course as they approached the finish line, spinnakers straining full of a brisk 15 knots of southwest Long Beach sea breeze.

Then Berntsson gybed away to aim for the nearer pin end of the line, while Bruni continued toward the committee boat end. Berntsson's bow crossed a couple of feet ahead by a single second. The next clinching race was an almost anti-climactic 24-second victory as Berntsson controlled the favored right side of the course.

Berntsson, who won last year's Bermuda Gold Cup on the World Match Racing Tour and was second in the last two Congressional Cups, gave all credit to his crew of tactician Daniel Wallberg, trimmer Johan Backman, main sail trimmer Johan Barne, pitman Niklas Calzon and bowman Bjorn Lundgren.

"The guys made me grow and didn't blame me when I made the mistakes," he said. "If you have that confidence you can come back and do better. My plan was to make some aggressive starts."

Bruni, 27, was glum but gracious at the dock. "It's been a good regatta," said the leader of the Joe Fly Sailing Team. "With the competition, the organization and the hospitality, [of all] the events I've sailed in my life I've never seen anything like this."

The competition, in fact, was so strong that France's Sébastien Col and Philippe Presti and New Zealand's Adam Minoprio - currently ranked 1, 6 and 8 in the world - didn't reach the semifinals.

Hutchinson, who lost out after posting the top round-robin record at 15-3, said, "One of Berntsson's crew sails with us [ Quantum Racing] on the TP52 [circuit), so we're going to have to listen to this all summer long."

Great Britain's Ben Ainslie, who started fast but faded later, won the fleet race for non-sailoff teams to collect $1,000 and an Oceanaut watch.

Berntsson's won $10,000 and watches for his crew. Bruni won $6,000.


FINAL ROUND-ROBIN STANDINGS: 1. Terry Hutchinson, USA, 15-3; 2. tie between Francesco Bruni, Italy, and Mathieu Richard, France, 13-5; 4. tie between Johnie Berntsson, Sweden, and Adam Minoprio, New Zealand, 10-8 (Berntsson wins tiebreaker); 6. Ben Ainslie, Great Britain, 9-9; 7. Sébastien Col, France, 7.5-10*; 8. Staffan Lindberg, Finland, 7-11; 9. Philippe Presti, France, 4-14; 10. Brian Angel, USA, 1-17.
*Penalised half-point.

Berntsson d. Richard, 0:22; Richard d. Berntsson, DNF; Berntsson d. Richard, 0:33 (Berntsson wins, 2-1).

Bruni d. Hutchinson, 0:55; Bruni d. Hutchinson, 0:26 (Bruni wins, 2-0).

Berntsson d. Bruni, 0:01; Berntsson d. Bruni, 0:24 (Berntsson wins, 2-0).

Hutchinson d. Richard, 0:55; Hutchins d. Richard, 0:02 (Hutchinson wins, 2-0).

The 2009 Congressional Cup is supported by Spinnaker sponsors F&M Bank, Catalina Adventure Tours, the Press Telegram and Oceanaut Watches Luxury Swiss Timepieces; Sail sponsors Union Bank, Newmeyer and Dillion LLP, Port of Long Beach, Gladstone's Long Beach and MCA Logistics; Hospitality sponsor Mount Gay Rum, and Honorary sponsor Catalina Yachts.

More photos on the following pages...

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