Match racers head for Long Beach

Rich Roberts previews this week's Congressional Cup

Tuesday April 29th 2008, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United Kingdom
The aggressive side of sailboat racing that is match racing, returns to the shores where it has flourished for generations when the Long Beach Yacht Club stages the 44th Congressional Cup presented by Acura Tuesday through Saturday.

The fleet, rated Grade 1 by ISAF, includes two former winners - Gavin Brady of New Zealand in 1996, '97 and 2006 and Dave Perry of the U.S. in '83 and '84 - and overall 10 sailors from five countries: Damien Iehl, Pierre-Antoine Morvan and Philippe Presti of France; Johnnie Berntsson of Sweden, Simon Minoprio, Scott Dickson and Brady of New Zealand, Andrew Arbuzov of Russia and Chris VanTol of the U.S. (Detroit, Mich.). Dickson and Brady are US residents living in Long Beach and Annapolis, Md., respectively.

Total prize money is $41,000 with $10,000 to the winner.

The event marks the 20th anniversary of the game’s standard on-water umpire officiating system that started in the 1988 Congressional Cup, before most of these competitors were match racers. It dispensed with the nightmares of post-race protest hearings. Can they imagine any other way?

"No way," Presti said. "It was a major improvement. They should do it in fleet racing for big boats, too."

Racing will be near the end of Belmont Pier in the outer harbour - protected from ocean swells by the breakwater but in normal conditions open to a robust sea breeze, providing competitors the impetus to exercise their dynamic boat handling skills. There will be free seating for spectators, with snacks available.

Competition, starting at 11 am daily, conditions permitting, will feature a double round robin running through Friday, then the best-of-three semi-finals and finals Saturday scheduled around a fleet race for non-qualifiers. Principal race officer Conrad Banks said he plans to sail five rounds each of the first two days, leaving eight through Thursday and Friday.

The 10 six-man crews will sail Catalina 37s owned by the Long Beach Yacht Club Sailing Foundation, rotating boats daily.

Despite the heat wave in the mid-90s (F.) hanging over Southern California, Banks told the skippers Monday: "The weather we have now is going to be short-lived, we think. We'll probably have nice breeze later in the week."

The forecast is for winds of 10 to 12 knots through the week.

From its beginnings with a Deed of Gift endorsed by members of the US Congress, the Congressional Cup has been won by the best sailors of three generations, including Dennis Conner, Bill Ficker, Rod Davis, Harold Cudmore, the late Chris Law, Chris Dickson, Peter Gilmour, Peter Holmberg, Dean Barker and Ed Baird. Davis and Holmberg are four-time winners, and Brady is poised to join that exclusive list.

Event sponsors are the Port of Long Beach, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Catalina Adventure Tours, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, West Marine, Long Beach Memorial Hospital, Union Bank of California, Newmeyer & Dillion attorneys at Law, Mount Gay Rum and Gladstone’s Restaurant of Long Beach.

A high level of organization has been maintained over the years by a volunteer force of some 300 club members and their families.

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