Weather or not, the Congressional Cup is ready to go
by Rich Roberts
A morning buffet of lightning, thunder, rain and sunshine welcomed some of the world's best sailors to the Long Beach Yacht Club's 47th Congressional Cup Monday.
That was the weather preview for the week of the most prestigious Grade 1 match racing event in the United States that starts Tuesday with the first of two round robins leading to Saturday's championship sailoffs. Racing will start daily at 11:30 a.m. or later, as conditions permit.
Francesco Bruni of Italy, ranked No. 8 in the world, is the defending champion, and he'll be going against three former winners---Dave Perry of the U.S. (1983, 1984), No. 36; Mathieu Richard of France (2007), No. 3, and Johnie Berntsson of Sweden (2009), No. 17---along with Ian Williams of Great Britain, No. 5; Evgeny Neugodnikov of Russia, No. 9; Phil Robertson of New Zealand, No. 10; Staffan Lindberg of Finland, No. 19; Simone Ferrarese of Italy, No. 21, and Taylor Canfield of the U.S. Virgin Islands, No. 29, who qualified by winning last summer's Grade 2 Trifecta Events series at Chicago, Detroit and Manhasset Bay, N.Y.
That's eight foreign teams and another from a U.S. territory. The current weather pattern should make them all feel at home some of the time.
"It's colder than home," one member of Berntsson's crew noted as he bundled up for the day's practice session.
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. Visit all sponsors
Williams hasn't won the Congressional Cup but brings in a strong resume, mostly built after he shelved his law career. Second in a previous appearance, he said, "The fact that we're here is significant. I've been trying to come back for the last five or six years. It's a great regatta, and coming in second I feel like it's unfinished business.
"It's also a great start to the year. … to get the team together, we get in a lot racing to jump-start our year."
His tactician this week is an American, Bill Hardesty, a San Diego native who is involved with building the program at the Chicago Match Racing Center.
"We won a world championship together [in 2007] and three World [Match Racing] Tour regattas together," Williams said.
Williams and Hardesty each noted the Congressional Cup's hospitable appeal to competitors.
"This is kind of on an upper scale, with all the [club member] volunteers," Hardesty said.
Perry said, "Instead of one person holding the door for you, there's a bunch of people holding the door."
Also, crews don't need to share boats. The sturdy Catalina 37s they race are 21 years old but there is one for everybody, plus a spare.
"That's one of the great things about the event," Williams said. "You get a lot of sailing."
Meantime, the event takes note of the recent passing of Gerry Driscoll, a sailing icon from the San Diego area who won the first two Congressional Cups in 1965 and '66, forever placing his name atop the list that includes many of the world's best sailors of the last half-century. Driscoll died at his home in La Jolla, Calif. He was 87.
The racing will be 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.
Principal race officer Randy Smith, already challenged by the erratic winds for last weekend's Ficker Cup that ushered Ferrarese into this event, issued the following weather forecast for the week:
"It appears that we will have good breeze every day but not too much. There is rain in the marine forecast for 4 of 5 days, so it will likely be a wet year. But my weather models make me more optimistic. In any case, make sure you all have proper foul weather gear, boots or waterproof socks and warm clothes. I will pick up some hot chocolate and Cup O' Noodles so we will have a chance to warm up if needed."
Smith also noted that rain would not be a problem.
"I don't care about rain," he said. "Wind is what counts."
The total purse is $40,000, with $10,000 for the winner.