Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Will Tiller (NZL) Wins the Butler Cup in California Dreamin' Series

New Zealand's Tiller wins a wild finish to Butler Cup

LBYC Commodore Bud Lorbeer (l.) watches FMJ Racing's bowman Brandon Wood hoist the Butler Cup for the team. Image copyright Rich Roberts.

by Rich Roberts

For Chris Nesbitt, the Butler Cup stop in the California Dreamin' Series turned into a nightmare Sunday when he lost the championship final to New Zealand's Will Tiller in two straight races that weren't ... races, that is.

Certainly, it was difficult to recall anything similar in the half-century that the host Long Beach Yacht Club has been running the high-profile match racing, including the world-class Congressional Cup late this month.

Bowman John Fox took a short swim. Image copyright Rich Roberts.

The first race of their best-of-three sail-off literally was over before it started. The pair never got to the line after some aggressive jousting when, in a space of about 30 seconds off the port side of the race committee boat, the on-water umpires hoisted two yellow flags (Nesbitt's color for that race) against the 21-year-old racer from nearby Balboa Yacht Club and then a black flag signaling instant disqualification.

A few minutes later, with Nesbitt one down, they tried again, and this time the pair tangled near the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier where Nesbitt - then the blue boat - drew two flags. He made it to the starting line ... but a second or two early and had to circle back to re-start. By then Tiller was well out of reach, even if Nesbitt hadn't owed two penalty turns.

A spinnaker gets away downwind. Image copyright Rich Roberts.

Tiller, 23, from Auckland, was at a loss to explain the episodes.

"I never was in a start like that before," he said. "He kind of got mixed into bad situations."

Only one of the fouls involved contact - "His bow hit our stern," Tiller said - but whenever Tiller waved his protest flag the umpires seemed to agree, according to chief umpire Kirk Brown, that in most instances Nesbitt was penalized "for not keeping clear" when Tiller owned the right of way.

Will Tiller (l.) waves protest flag at Chris Nesbitt in the pre-start battle. Image copyright Rich Roberts.

Nesbitt declined to comment. Up to that critical point in the event he had swept his seven rivals, including Tiller, in the round robin portion and beaten Italy's winless Saverio Ramirez and Long Beach's Dustin Durant, 2-0, in the early sailoff rounds.

His first loss of the weekend was the bizarre face-off in the title final. Tiller swept David Storrs in the quarterfinals, 2-0, but had to come from one race down to get past veteran Russ Silvestri of San Francisco, 2-1, in the semifinals. Silvestri beat Durant in the petit final, 2-0, for third place overall.

Chief umpire Kirk Brown (centre) and team black flag Nesbitt before the start. Image copyright Rich Roberts.

The Catalina 37s thrived in a 14-knot southwesterly breeze that faded slightly late in the day under a thin cloud cover.

Tiller's crew was fellow Kiwis Harry Thurston, and David Wood, trimmers; Daniel Pooley, main sail, and Americans Brandon Folkman, pit, and Brandon Wood, bow.

Another meaning to the concept of "bird's eye view"? Image copyright Rich Roberts.

The Grade 3 California Dreamin' Series for match racing prospects winds up at San Diego next weekend. Tiller and Nesbitt aren't entered there but will meet again in the Grade 2 Ficker Cup back at Long Beach March 17-19. That winner earns a slot in the Congressional Cup March 22-26.

Final standings

1. Will Tiller, New Zealand, 6-1 round robin; 6-1 sailoffs.
2. Chris Nesbitt, Balboa YC, 7-0, 4-2.
3. Russ Silvestri, St. Francis YC, 4-3, 5-2.
4. Dustin Durant, Long Beach, 3-4, 2-5.
5. Bruce Stone, St. Francis YC, 4-3, 1-2.
6. John Horsch, Treasure Island Sailing Club, 3-4, 0-2.
7. David Storrs, Long Beach YC, 1-6, 0-2.
8. Saverio Ramirez, Italy, 0-7, 0-2.

California Dreamin' Match Race Series: Long Beach