Hutchinson and Spithill join the line-up
The fleet includes the world's top three ranked competitors - France's Sébastien Col, Great Britain's Ian Williams and France's Mathieu Richard - as well as Terry Hutchinson, recent recipient of America's Rolex Yachtsman of the Year award for 2008, and, among others, Australia's James Spithill, who drove Italy's Luna Rossa in the 2007 America's Cup at Valencia.
It's the strongest field the Congressional Cup has drawn in recent years - perhaps ever - and certainly stronger than any Angel has faced in four previous events, three as skipper and one as tactician.
"By far," he said. "When I saw the list of competitors I was surprised. It's going to be tough."
But, bring 'em on! "Ultimately, I would rather lose to the best than beat lesser teams," Angel said. "The test of how good you are is how you do against the top sailors. Generally, it's not boat speed. Most of the people in the top 30 or 40 all know the moves, the strategy. It's ultimately about who has practiced the most and who is the sharpest and who can react and execute the best when things happen. These guys sail so much that it gives them a huge edge."
Col and Williams currently lead the France and China entries in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series for prospective America's Cup teams in Auckland, N.Z.
"I thought it was great that New Zealand took the initiative to keep the teams sailing," Angel said. "As I understood it, a lot of those teams would have died if they didn't have some way to create sponsorship and keep the teams alive."
Over six years of campaigning seriously, Angel, 28, has competed in a dozen Grade 1 events - essentially just a single season for the top guys. Angel currently is ranked No. 61, but that's not necessarily a reflection of his skill level because of the difficulty for Americans to gain ranking points. The Congressional Cup, not part of the World Match Racing Tour, is the only Grade 1 match racing event on the North American continent, and it takes sponsorship to fund travel to top tier events that award the most points elsewhere on earth.
Angel qualified for this Congressional Cup last fall by winning LBYC's Ficker Cup, an open event where the top prize is a berth in the big event.
"I'm fortunate that I have had the same crew for the last two or three years," Angel said. "Even though we're not as practiced as we used to be, we know each other pretty well."
His crew is Michael Brown, tactician; Bud McKay, main sail; Payson Infelise, trim; David Hochart, trim, and Tyler Prentice, bow. All are from the Southern California area.
Also in the field are France's Philippe Presti, ranked No. 6; New Zealand's Adam Minoprio, No. 8; Sweden's Johnie Berntsson, No. 9, and Finland's Staffan Lindberg, No. 14.
The 10 six-man crews will sail Catalina 37s owned by the Long Beach Yacht Club Sailing Foundation, rotating boats daily. Each team will race every other team twice. The top four qualify for the championship sailoffs on Saturday.
The 2009 fleet
(in order or world ranking):
1. Sébastien Col, France
2. Ian Williams, Great Britain
3. Mathieu Richard, France
6. Philippe Presti France
10. Adam Minoprio, New Zealand
8. Johnie Berntsson, Sweden
14. Staffan Lindberg, Finland
61. Brian Angel, USA
205. James Spithill, Australia
911. Terry Hutchinson, USA