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25 April 2004, 08:33 am
Baird Victorious
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© Rich Roberts

Congressional Cup
Long Beach, California

The 40th Congressional Cup had run out of time and Terry HUTCHINSON had run out of wind when Ed BAIRD came from behind on the last leg to win a sudden-death championship race by 1 minute 41 seconds on Saturday.
Baird, at 46 the oldest competitor in the fleet, was the only semifinalist among Hutchinson, New Zealand's Gavin BRADY and Australia's Peter GILMOUR who hadn't won the event's traditional Crimson Blazer.

Baird took the weakest round-robin record into the semifinals (11-7), but eliminated Brady (12-6), a two-time winner, 2-1. Meanwhile, Gilmour (16-2) chose Hutchinson (12-6) as his semifinal opponent after the Annapolis-based sailor had warned, "I wouldn't pick us." Sure enough, Gilmour was stunned, 2-1, downgrading the anticipated title showdown between himself and Brady to a sailoff for third place, won by Brady by 1 minute 15 seconds.

That was sailed five minutes ahead of the title match after the race committee announced that the scheduled best-of-three final was reduced to a single race because the Sailing Instructions said no race could be started after 1600 and it was already past 1500.

Also, the wind near the beach was the lightest it had been in the five days - 3 to 6 knots with only momentary flirtations with 12 - and when the decisive match started it soon became clear that the half-mile windward course was so badly skewed that the boats could sail between marks without tacking or gybing.

Hutchinson gained on a favourable wind shift immediately after the start and was able to tack on Baird's nose and lead by 53 seconds, 1:23 and 34 seconds at the three marks before sailing into the fateful leg. With half a mile to go for the title, he did a simple bear-away spinnaker set that took him left and into the lee of one of the oil islands in the Long Beach outer harbour.

Baird, seeing no profit in pursuing his opponent, did a gybe set and went to the right---and into whatever breeze remained on the course. "I thought, 'We can either gybe here and maybe stay in the race or we can sail into what they've got and it will be nothing for us, too," he said.

It was the smartest move he made all week. Soon, down in the shadow of the island, Hutchinson's sails were sagging and his boat was dead in the water as Baird glided on a steady course to the finish. Hutchinson said later, "We couldn't gybe. That breeze that Ed got never got to us. Trust me, I would have loved to gybe."

As Hutchinson crossed the finish line he and tactician Chris LARSON summoned chief umpire Jack LLOYD for an animated discussion, then drifted over to talk to principal race officer Bobby FRAZIER. They thought the last race should have been abandoned because of "unfair" conditions. "We're asking for the race to be thrown out and for our round-robin results to stand," Hutchinson said. "We beat Peter in the semis, so at that point we finished higher in the round-robin then Ed did, so we should be the winners. We don't want to be sore losers, but I don't feel justice was done in that race." He added with a smile, "I'm not one to whine when I lose a race, [although] I used to be."

The umpires listened to the team's case presented by Larson and crew member Morgan TRUBOVICH but let the result stand.

Baird said, "I feel sorry for Terry and his guys. They sailed well all week and were in a clearly advantaged position in that race. [But] they could have gone either way."

Frazier added, "If the time limit hadn't been there I would have abandoned the [championship] race and moved the course out three miles to where we had wind."

Gilmour said, "Why couldn't we have changed the Sailing Instructions to drop the time limit? All of us [sailors] would have agreed. We could have sailed until 7 o'clock. I think the only person happy is Ed."

Baird collected $6,000 of the $25,000 total purse for his victory, full results are available on the event website at the address below.
Rich Roberts (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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