Williams on a charge
Maybe it was the lucky tiara his team's boat hostess wore or perhaps the pelicans that showed them the way around the course, but Ian Williams raced like the world's No.1-ranked match racer that he is on the third day of the Long Beach Yacht Club's 48th Congressional Cup Thursday.
Soon after the defending champion and his crew from the UK reached the dock after a perfect 4-0 day, Rebekah Bennett arrived bearing a plate of post-race goodies and wearing the glistening silver hairpiece they had asked her to display.
The occasion marked their comeback from a modest 2-3 start in the regatta with an eight-race win streak that has them only one step behind early leader Gavin Brady with four matches remaining in the double round robin.
Brady was only 2-2 on the day, including a close loss to Williams that saw them never more than a boat-length apart over the one-third-mile, two-lap windward leeward course in the Long Beach outer harbor. Brady is assured of reaching Saturday's semifinals, with Williams just a breath away.
Winds were more moderate than a day earlier at 6 knots building to 10, wandering slightly from the southwest.
Until the breeze settled in, an active array of California brown pelicans put on a pre-game show for the sailors and spectators, swooping among the milling boats and performing like dive bombers to pluck their lunch from below.
But by the second flight of the day, the scene became more serious than sublime when Williams and Brady lined up. The Brit, on a confident roll, started at the committee boat end and went right, as Brady took the left side. They were essentially even when they met at the windward mark, but Williams' starboard tack advantage allowed him to cross Brady and round ahead.
The margin didn't change much in the final mile before Williams won by eight seconds.
"We convinced our boat hostess to wear her tiara," said Williams, who knows about the influence of royalty. "That made the difference."
That and, of course, "We're just trying to improve every day," Williams said, "getting used to the boat and remembering how to do it."
His Team GAC Pindar hadn't raced since December when they won the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia to clinch the 2011 World Match Racing Tour title that elevated them to numero uno on the planet.
Meantime, Brady (11-3) also lost to Laurie Jury (5-9) of New Zealand, but the four-time winner here wasn't overly concerned. "I don't feel too bad about today," he said. "You don't win all 18 [round robin] races. We qualified for the semifinals … and we're having fun."
But another former winner was struggling. Johnie Berntsson of Sweden, who donned the Crimson Blazer in 2008, is 6-8 after a 2-2 day.
"We're trying to get the team together," Berntsson said, citing "strategy problems." He lost to New Zealand's Will Tiller (7-7) by only two seconds in what could become a turnaround result in the semifinal solution.
The total purse is $60,000, with $10,000 to the winner.
Results and standings
Johnie Berntsson, Sweden, def. Eric Monnin, Switzerland, 10 seconds.
William Tiller, New Zealand, d. Laurie Jury, New Zealand, 0:15.
Ian Williams, UK, d. Dustin Durant, USA, 0:30.
Gavin Brady, New Zealand-Annapolis, Md., d. Staffan Lindberg, Finland, 0:13.
Taylor Canfield, U.S. Virgin Islands, d. Simone Ferrarese, Italy, 0:12.
Jury d. Durant, 0:28; Williams d. Brady, 0:08; Lindberg d. Canfield, 1:02; Ferrarese d. Berntsson, 0:18; Monnin d. Tiller, 0:11.
Williams d. Canfield, 0:03; Ferrarese d. Lindberg, 0:11; Tiller d. Berntsson, 0:02; Monnin d. Durant, 0:20; Jury d. Brady, 0:06.
Berntsson d. Lindberg, 0:30; Tiller d. Durant., 0:32; Brady d. Monnin, 1:00; Canfield d. Jury, 0:10; Williams d. Ferrarese, 0:17.
Standings (after 14 of 18 rounds)
1. Gavin Brady, 11-3;
2. Ian Williams, 10-4;
3. Taylor Canfield, 8-6;
4-6. William Tiller, Eric Monnin and Simone Ferrarese, 7-7;
7-8 Staffan Lindberg and Johnie Berntsson, 6-8;
9 Laurie Jury, 5-9;
10 Dustin Durant, 3-11.