Italy's Paolo Cian (right) and crew makes themselves at home on one of the Catalina 37s to be sailed in the Congressional Cup. Crew members are (foreground) Francesco De Vita and (from left) Pierluigi Fornelli, Davide Scarpa and Peter van Niekirk.
 

Italy's Paolo Cian (right) and crew makes themselves at home on one of the Catalina 37s to be sailed in the Congressional Cup. Crew members are (foreground) Francesco De Vita and (from left) Pierluigi Fornelli, Davide Scarpa and Peter van Niekirk.

Congressional Cup hots up

The US west coast's match racing event sees the return to the Swedish Match of AC skippers reports Rich Roberts

Monday April 7th 2003, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United States
For six months Denmark's Jes Gram-Hansen and Jesper Radich have been sitting in the top two spots in the Swedish Match Tour's rankings, but a flock of America's Cup competitors are here to tell them the fun is over for the Long Beach Yacht Club's 39th Congressional Cup Tuesday through Saturday.

Australia's James Spithill, New Zealand's Gavin Brady, America's Ken Read, Sweden's Magnus Holmberg, France's Luc Pillot and Italy's Paolo Cian were occupied in Auckland when the Danes were swapping wins in the Danish Open last August and the Bermuda Gold Cup in October. However, Radich was second and Gram-Hansen third in a representative field when Spithill, tuning up to drive Seattle's OneWorld entry, won the Trofeo Challenge in Italy earlier.

But the fifth of nine events on the Swedish Match Tour will feature the strongest field yet, bringing together most of the best match racers on the planet for the first time since Switzerland's Alinghi completed its systematic relocation of the America's Cup to Europe.

The event will be broadcast live on local 810 AM radio each day. The broadcasts will be fed simultaneously to Long Beach City College's Web site, klbc.org, which is available to anyone with access to the Internet.

Also, about 15 minutes of edited streaming video highlights will be posted on the LBYC Web site, lbyc.org, every night.

Is Gram-Hansen intimidated by the lineup facing him? "I feel confident heading into the Congressional Cup," he said. "Knowing that I have a really strong team, I am sure we can continue to make good results."

Russell Coutts is not competing, but one member of his crew - trimmer Peter van Niekirk - was with Alinghi, and Long Beach's own New Zealand transplant, Scott Dickson, has a prominent figure from four of the last five ACs as tactician: his older brother, Chris, who won the Congressional Cup in 1990-91.

Peter Holmberg, who won four of the last five, is at home in the U.S. Virgin Islands, winding down from a good run as helmsman for Oracle BMW. The only past winners present are Brady ('96-97) and---whoa!---Britain's Chris Law, who won here in 1994 before slipping into retirement but now seems as feisty as ever at 50. He shares third place in the Swedish Match Tour rankings with Spithill.

Now a grandfather, Law is the leader of the "Outlaws," a multinational mix of veterans from the U.S., Sweden and the U.K. He returned to match racing in 2001. "I wasn't involved in the America's Cup so I was available to do some of these events," he said.

After some modest success and then a victory in the UBS Challenge at Newport, R.I. last summer he decided: "Well, maybe I'm not too old."

The team's name came naturally, Law said. "I am a bit of a rogue - a likeable rogue, and we did do a bank job in Newport and got away with 35 grand. It's a thrill for me to be invited back to this event. We're here to take it seriously."

So is Morgan Trubovich, it says here, despite his marriage last Saturday. Trubovich sailed on Read's crew for Team Dennis Conner, which is having a modest reunion with Terry Hutchinson, Mike Toppa, Jerry Kirby and Andrew Scott also on board.

The Congressional Cup again will be sailed on the Catalina 37 sloops built for the event. Each boat must have a minimum crew of six and a maximum combined crew weight of 1,200 pounds. The format will be a double round robin followed by best-of-three semifinals and finals. A short windward-leeward race course will be set adjacent to Belmont Pier, where spectators are welcome.

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