Thursday, 19 March 2009

45th Congressional Cup Preview

Minoprio steps up as a Con Cup favourite

Adam Minoprio stays ahead of Ben Ainslie to secure a place in the Bermuda Gold Cup finals 2008. Image copyright Charles Anderson/World Match Racing Tour.

by Rich Roberts

Just when it seemed there was no more room for talent in the Long Beach Yacht Club's 45th Congressional Cup next week, here comes Adam Minoprio politely elbowing his way into the overcrowded circle of favorites.

While showing due respect for his elders and their rankings, the 23-year-old New Zealander and his BlackMatch Racing crew scored their first victory on the World Match Racing Tour in last week's season opener, the Marseille International Match Race in France.

Along the way the team that also included Kiwis David Swete, Tom Powrie and Dan MacLean defeated double WMRT defending champion Ian Williams of the UK, Ed Baird of Alinghi's America's Cup champions and, in the title finals, No. 3-ranked Mathieu Richard.

"I think that it will only increase our self-belief when going into big matches against well-known sailors like Ben Ainslie and Terry Hutchinson," Minoprio said this week.

Not to mention Richard who, like Baird, is a past Congressional Cup winner, as is Hutchinson, the 2008 U.S. Yachtsman of the Year. Minoprio will meet both next week, along with Ainslie, Great Britain's Olympic triple gold medalist and three-time Rolex World Sailor of the Year.

Ainslie, by the way, lost to Minoprio in last fall's Bermuda Gold Cup, which was won by Sweden's Johnie Berntsson, a former Con Cup runnerup who also will be here . . . plus two of the few to beat Minoprio at Marseille: France's Sébastien Col, currently ranked No. 1, and Philippe Presti, No. 6.

Well, nobody can win 'em all.

Finland's Staffan Lindberg, the U.S.'s Brian Angel from nearby Redondo Beach and Italy's Francesco Bruni---no pushovers themselves---round out the fleet.

Minoprio has been here before as tactician for older brother Simon Minoprio in the 2006 Congressional Cup. They missed reaching the semifinals in a three-way tiebreaker as Gavin Brady---not competing here this year---went on to win the third of his four traditional Crimson Blazers awarded to the winners.

"Yes, it was a close regatta," Minoprio said. "We were a little disappointed to miss out on the semifinals, but we got to do the fleet race and enjoy the local bars."

As usual, the six teams that miss the sailoffs will have their own fleet race on the last day Saturday. The bars are optional.

Minoprio put his team together later that year, and he still treasures the experience which, as ever, was enhanced by the service of more than 300 Long Beach YC volunteers.

"The regatta was fantastic," Minoprio said. "We were looked after really well and everything was organized very professionally."

He also liked the Catalina 37s, which were designed and built by Catalina Yachts for match racing but have also proven versatile as fleet racers chartered by Long Beach Yacht Club Sailing Foundation over nearly two decades.

"The boats are all very equal and are good for match racing," Minoprio said. "They don't handle like dinghies with tight turning circles and acceleration, so you have to really be on top of your match racing tactics, especially in the prestart."

The only downside for Minoprio is that he's blown his cover of relative anonymity and is no longer likely to be regarded lightly. At Marseille, Ed Baird, with the best round-robin record, had the privilege of picking his quarterfinal opponent.

“We did not want to select any French team, as they would be the home favorites," Baird said at the time, "and picking the reigning world champion [Williams] would be stupid, and choosing a guy who won all his races on the first day [Paolo Cian] didn’t seem smart, either. That left the two youngest teams. So, since Torvar [Mirsky] is ranked higher than Adam, we chose Adam.”

And you know how that turned out.

The 10 teams will arrive in Long Beach over the weekend and draw for boats and practice Monday. Double round-robin racing starts Tuesday off Long Beach Memorial Belmont Pier, which will have seating and commentating for spectators. The top four advance to the sailoffs on Saturday.

The total purse is potentially worth $83,500, including prize money through 10 places, the fleet race, six $2,000 Oceanaut watches to the winning crew, plus an Acura TSX or $30,000 to any skipper that can sweep every race before winning overall.

The Congressional Cup has maintained a high level of organization over the years with a volunteer force of some 300 club members and their families. Each crew will be assigned boat hostesses and a housing team to deliver the outstanding local hospitality the Congressional Cup has offered now for 45 years.

The 2009 Congressional Cup is supported by Spinnaker sponsors F&M Bank, Catalina Adventure Tours, the Press Telegram and Oceanaut Watches Luxury Swiss Timepieces; Sail sponsors Union Bank, Newmeyer and Dillion LLP, Port of Long Beach, Gladstone's Long Beach and MCA Logistics; Hospitality sponsor Mount Gay Rum, and Honorary sponsor Catalina Yachts.

The 2009 skippers
(in order of world ranking)

1. Sébastien Col, France
3. Mathieu Richard, France
6. Philippe Presti France
8. Adam Minoprio, New Zealand
9. Johnie Berntsson, Sweden
19. Staffan Lindberg, Finland
53. Ben Ainslie, Great Britain
62. Brian Angel, USA
76. Francesco Bruni, Italy
921. Terry Hutchinson, USA

Former Congressional Cup Winners

1965 Gerry Driscoll
1966 Gerry Driscoll
1967 Scott Allan
1968 Skip Allan
1969 Henry Sprague III
1970 Argyle Campbell
1971 Tom Pickard
1972 Argyle Campbell
1973 Dennis Conner
1974 Bill Ficker
1975 Dennis Conner
1976 Dick Deaver
1977 Ted Turner
1978 Dick Deaver
1979 Dennis Durgan
1980 Dennis Durgan
1981 Rod Davis
1982 Scott Perry
1983 Dave Perry
1984 Dave Perry
1985 Rod Davis
1986 Harold Cudmore
1987 Eddie Warden-Owen
1988 Peter Gilmour
1989 Rod Davis
1990 Chris Dickson
1991 Chris Dickson
1992 Terry Hutchinson
1993 Rod Davis
1994 Chris Law
1995 Harold Cudmore
1996 Gavin Brady
1997 Gavin Brady
1998 Peter Holmberg
1999 Peter Holmberg
2000 Dean Barker
2001 Peter Holmberg
2002 Peter Holmberg
2003 Ken Read
2004 Ed Baird
2005 Dean Barker
2006 Gavin Brady
2007 Mathieu Richard
2008 Gavin Brady

Congressional Cup

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