Baird and Hutchinson team up
Some of the world's best match racing sailors from six countries and the US Virgin Islands are competing in Long Beach Yacht Club's 49th Congressional Cup starting Tuesday.
Two round-robin rotations will be followed by sail-offs through Saturday. Competition will be at Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier on the Long Beach outer harbor starting at noon daily, conditions permitting.
Monday's conditions didn't even permit practice sailing. Uncommon northwest winds well above 20 knots - the limit for exposing the Catalina 37s to potential damage - kept all competitors ashore. Plans are for a limited practice period before racing starts Tuesday.
The field has Great Britain's Ian Williams, the world's top-ranked match racer, trying for his third consecutive win in the event against New Zealand's Laurie Jury, the US Virgin Islands' Taylor Canfield, Switzerland's Eric Monnin, Italy's Simone Ferrarese, Australia's Jordan Reece, France's Mathieu Richard and New Zealand's Adam Minoprio.
So where are all the Americans?
Keep looking. At the bottom, according to ISAF's rankings, are Ed Baird and Scott Dickson, but they didn't get in on their recent resumes. Dickson is ranked 465th and Baird isn't ranked at all these days - not because they lack the talent to compete at this Grade 1 match racing level, but because they haven't played the game much lately.
Baird, 54, won the Congressional in 2004 and three years later steered Alinghi to victory in the 32nd America's Cup. His tactician will be Terry Hutchinson, 44, a northern California native who won the Congressional in 1992, but also remembers Baird's 2004 victory only too well. That's when in the decisive match of their championship sail-off Hutchinson led by about a minute at the last windward mark but sailed into a windless hole downwind as Baird breezed past to victory.
"Yeah, well, that's racing," Hutchinson says now, grimacing.
No hard feelings, though, Hutchinson was invited back this year, two days before he learned he was asked to team up with Baird in a Quantum Sails-sponsored TP52 campaign in Europe. Since Baird will be driving that boat, Hutchinson figured they should team up here.
"Since we're going to be sailing together this summer," Baird said, "Terry thought this would be a good place to start."
Dickson, 42, also proving it's never too late, scored his entry - his 12th Congressional Cup - by finishing second to Canfield in last weekend's Ficker Cup amid a strong Grade 2 field.
So Baird-Hutchinson and Dickson and, in a slight stretch of national definition, Canfield will carry American hopes. Canfield, director of the Chicago Match Racing Center and winner of three major events on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour last year, flies the flag of his homeland.
"While I am an American citizen and represent the U.S. as well," he says, "I feel that I have a great connection to the ISV and have chosen that over the U.S."
So be it. All of the Americans have the same mission against the overwhelming presence of other nationals on the world scene, not only in the America's Cup but in match racing overall. In the Congressional's early years foreign entries were uncommon.
Baird said: "Match racing has never been as big in the U.S. as some of us would like to see it, although more young sailors are taking up match racing with the development of the Chicago Match Race Center."
Hutchinson said, "It's all a cycle. The rest of the world has been catching up."
Most notably, the America's Cup lacks a significant American presence. There is only one American - tactician John Kostecki - on billionaire Larry Ellison's American defender. "Whoever wins may return some semblance of nationality back into it," Hutchinson said hopefully.
The Congressional Cup is not a part of the world tour, but older competitors are aware of its contributions to developing the game, such as on-water umpiring with penalty turns that did away with late-night protests at the end of too many days.
Baird recalled, "In the late 80s when they went to on-water umpiring it was more enjoyable for everybody."
The Congressional has a US$60,000 purse, including US$15,000 to the winner, along with the traditional Crimson Blazer.
Pier: Friedman's Appliances
Race Committee boat: Gladstone 's
Official boat: Catalina Yachts
Spinnaker: Hotel Maya, Creative Productions, McKennas, Ullman Sails, Time Warner, F&M Bank, Newmeyer & Dillion, Union Bank, MCA Logistics Club 100, Sea Fever Gear, Port of Long Beach, Montes Wine, Titan Wine and Spirits, Bellingham Marine, City National Bank, CAM Services, Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, UBS, Worldwide Education, Belmont Athletic Club and Wellness Center Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf