Step aside, day sailors, because there will be some serious match racing going on in the Long Beach Yacht Club's XL Congressional Cup starting today and finishing on Saturday.
The event is the only ISAF Grade 1 Open Match Racing event in USA and one of the favourites is Australian Peter GILMOUR. The America's Cup veteran's strongest rivals appear to be two-time winner Gavin BRADY, 2003 ISAF World Match Race Champion Ed BAIRD of St. Petersburg, Fla. and '92 winner Terry HUTCHINSON, who called tactics for last year's winner, Ken READ, who is not competing.
Brady, a New Zealander living in Annapolis, Md., is already designated as helmsman for Oracle BMW's next America's Cup challenge. He is counting this not only as "a tune-up for the new sailing season"
with his new team but a training step toward Valencia in 2007 because of the weapons of choice: the sturdy Catalina 37s introduced in 1990.
"With these boats, for an America's Cup team this is the best event to do,"
Brady said. "The boats are 37 feet but perform more like 45-footers. If you make a mistake you pay for it for the next few minutes, like you do in the America's Cup."
Others in the lineup are Scott DICKSON, who qualified for the eighth time by winning the Ficker Cup; Allan COUTTS, Kelvin HARRAP and Cameron APPLETON of New Zealand; Jes Gram-HANSEN(DEN), and Mattias RAHM (SWE).
They'll sail a double round-robin of 18 races each to sort out a final four for the weekend's best-of-three semifinals leading to the best-of-three finals. A short windward-leeward course will be set in smooth water close to Belmont Pier, well inside the breakwater. Each race will be twice around.
Racing will start at noon daily, conditions permitting. There is $25,000 in prize money, with $6,000 to the winning team.
Live radio commentary of the racing may be heard worldwide on www.KLBC.org
or at 810 AM within a four-mile radius of the Belmont Pier spectator site. Video highlights of each day's racing may be replayed each evening on the club's Web site at the address below.
Sportshow TV is producing a half-hour highlight video to be aired later by the Outdoor Life Network.
At 28 Peter GILMOUR was the Congressional Cup champion in 1988, a year after gaining international prominence as the aggressive tactician and starting helmsman---remember "Crash" Gilmour?---for Iain MURRAY on Kookaburra III in the '86-87 America's Cup at Fremantle. Later he won three match racing world championships in 1990, '97 and '98.
Brady, 30, was only 22 when he scored the first of his two Congressional Cup wins back to back in '96 and '97. Last year he set an event record by winning his first 14 races before finishing the round robin with 16 wins and 2 losses, well ahead of the fleet, but he lost to Read in the finals, 2-1.
This time Brady is sailing with other personnel from the restructured Oracle BMW team led by Chris DICKSON, including John KOSTECKI of San Francisco, skipper of the victorious illbruck entry in the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race. Others crew members are Brad WEBB, Craig MONK and Ross HALCROW of New Zealand and Mark BRADFORD of Australia---each a world-class professional.
Each crew must meet the maximum weight limit of 1,155 pounds. A couple of teams had to strip down to shorts to make it.
Steve FLAM, a local veteran sailing as tactician for Gram-Hansen, was last to hit the scales and was told by weighmaster Molly McCloud that there was room for only 178 3/4 pounds more. Flam, without his shirt and pants, weighed 178 3/4 pounds.