Not much was going Finland's way at first in the Long Beach Yacht Club's 47th Congressional Cup. The Finns' finishes were lousy - first in only one of the first six races Tuesday, and then tactician Nils Bjerkas slipped overboard Wednesday, but that was okay because it marked a turning point.
Staffan Lindberg's team still won the race and, rolling past the rough early stages this week, found enough of its form to win eight of its last 12 matches, including one by 10 seconds against 2009 champion Johnie Berntsson in a Scandinavian showdown Friday.
A final runaway win against struggling Taylor Canfield levelled their double round robin record at 9-9 and ushered them into the fourth and last slot in Saturday's best-of-three semifinals, where they'll meet defending champion Francesco Bruni (17-1), while 2007 winner Mathieu Richard of France (13-5) goes against Great Britain's Ian Williams (13-5).
The tall and taciturn Lindberg skipper said: "I think we were too bad in the beginning, but we got better and better. We had nothing to lose. This was our first sailing [since last September]. I'm pretty sure we'll make a run [Saturday]."
The problem for everyone has been stopping Bruni's charge. The Italian has won his last 10 races since losing to Williams Wednesday - by one second - and seems to be making all the right moves.
"We've never had such a good feeling on the boat," he said. "I hope our luck is not over. You need some good luck to go 17 and one."
As was his option, Bruni picked Lindberg, as his semifinals opponent, although with some reservations.
"He's sailing better and better every day, and we know that," Bruni said.
A day earlier Bruni noted, perhaps ominously, "Over the last five years in Grade 1 [match racing] events, the opponents picked have won 70 per cent of the sailoffs."
The weather Friday was ideal. A heavy storm that was heading south toward Long Beach the previous two days suddenly veered east into Nevada, leaving a steady 13-knot southwesterly that was expected to continue into Saturday.
The downside was two more crew members hitting the drink: pitman Matt Clark off Canfield's boat and tactician Andrew Campbell off Dave Perry's boat. Both were quickly retrieved, although their races were lost.
The same happened to Williams a day earlier when the skippers raced singlehanded Naples Sabots against junior sailors in the Junior Congressional Cup in the marina channel. His little boat flipped and totally dunked him.
Meanwhile, Jack Berg, 11, won the race and the trophy.
Racing is scheduled to start around noon off Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier in east Long Beach, well inside the breakwater of the outer Long Beach Harbor. There is public parking at the base of the pier and free shuttles out to the end, where there is expert commentary, limited seating, a snack bar, restaurant and comfort stations.
The total purse is $40,000, with $10,000 for the winner.
Standings after 18 flights
1. Francesco Bruni, Italy, 17-1.
2. Tie between Mathieu Richard, France, and Ian Williams, Great Britain, 13-5.
4. Staffan Lindberg, Finland, 9-9.
5. Dave Perry, USA, 8-10.
6. Tie between Johnie Berntsson, Sweden, and Simone Ferrarese, Italy, 7-11.
8. Evgeny Neugodnikov, Russia, 6-12.
9. Tie between Taylor Canfield, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Phil Robertson, New Zealand, 5-13.
Bruni d. Richard, 2 seconds.
Williams d. Ferrarese, 0:20.
Perry d. Canfield, 0:12.
Lindberg d. Berntsson, 0:10.
Robertson d. Neugodnikov, 0:02.
Canfield d. Ferrarese, 0:14.
Perry d. Berntsson, 0:03.
Neugodnikov d. Lindberg, 0:20.
Bruni d. Williams, 1:19.
Richard d. Robertson, 0:06. .
Ferrarese d. Perry, 1:05.
Lindberg d. Canfield, 1:17.
Berntsson d. Robertson, 0:13.
Bruni d. Neugodnikov, 0:11.
Williams d. Richard, 0:06.
Ullman Sails is the sail sponsor. Friedman's Appliances is the pier sponsor. Time Warner Cable is the media sponsor. Hotel Maya is the official host hotel. Other sponsors are Yamaha, Farmers & Merchants Bank, City National Bank, Union Bank, Newmeyer & Dillon, Press Telegram, Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, Port of Long Beach, Gladstones, MCA, Creative Productions and Catalina Yachts.