Jet-lagged and ranked #451 in the world after being away from the match racing game for two long years Gavin Brady quickly found his Long Beach touch to sweep his five races on Day 1 of the Long Beach Yacht Club's 48th Congressional Cup.
That launches him to a two-win lead in his bid to collect an unprecedented fifth Crimson Blazer, the iconic winner's prize in the event. Only a day earlier, when nine upcoming rivals were already out practicing in the Catalina 37s, Brady arrived at noon after 18 hours in the air from Down Under, where he sailed to second place in the New Zealand IRC Nationals, which is what world-class professional sailors do.
A few of his crew also arrived late from another event in the Caribbean, but none appeared to miss a beat as they defeated Italy's Simone Ferrarese, Finland's Staffan Lindberg, New Zealand's Laurie Jury, Switzerland's Eric Monnin and World #1 Ian Williams, the defending champion.
"It was a surprise coming out with five wins today,"
Brady said. "We were all a bit jet-lagged, but we know the boats … and we know where to go at night [to unwind]."
His ranking is so low because the last match race he did was the 2010 Congressional Cup, when he finished second.
Winds for the racing before spectators on the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier were a moderately chilly and brisk 10 to 14 knots from the normal southwest, leaving boat handling paramount and the rest of the fleet tightly bunched at 3-2 or 2-3, except for local hope Dustin Durant, who pulled off the upset of the day by beating Williams in the second flight---his only win of the day after going 12-2 in last week's Ficker Cup to qualify for the event.
"We went 1 and 4 but we sailed well in every race,"
said Durant. "The competition is tougher now."
Monnin gave Brady one of his fiercest fights in the final flight before losing by 32 seconds. At the first leeward mark protest flags flew like autumn leaves as each tried to claim the inside rounding position, and the on-water umpires called six fouls---two on Brady and four on Monnin.
Monnin said later, "I hope the umpires had time to dry their flags. It was a good match, fighting as hard as we did and just losing."
Williams, meanwhile, noted that with 13 flights remaining in the double round robin, "We're not out of it yet."
Of course, no one knows that better than Brady, a native of New Zealand who has been competing in the Congressional Cup for nearly 20 years since moving to Annapolis, Md. He recently moved with his family back to Auckland, where sailing is always taken seriously.
After the two round robins, the top four teams advance into best-of-three semi-finals and finals.
All racing is in the outer harbor off the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier in east Long Beach. Admission is free; snacks, refreshments and comfort stations are available. Parking in the lot at the base of the pier is complimentary, as is transit out to the end of the pier.