The Congressional Cup is a learning experience for some of the younger sailors, and one thing they're learning is respect for their elders.
The two oldest skippers, Peter GILMOUR (AUS), and Ed BAIRD (USA), had the best day on Thursday with four wins in as many races.
That put Gilmour back in first place with an 11-2 record and Baird into strong position at 9-4 for a place in Saturday's semifinals of the ISAF Grade 1 event. Gavin BRADY (NZL) was 2-2 on the day to slip out of first place, but his 10-3 record (despite a half-point deduction for a collision incident Wednesday) almost certainly means he'll be in the sailoffs in quest of his third Crimson Blazer.
After them it's a dogfight. Terry HUTCHINSON of Team Annapolis Volvo and Denmark's Jes GRAM-HANSEN are tied at 7-6, and only New Zealand's Allan COUTTS (0-13) is mathematically out of contention with five matches for each team remaining. No more than four will be run today, leaving the 18th flight of the double round-robin until Saturday to give everyone a final bow.
Baird, for one, does not plan to coast conservatively into the semis.
"It's not like fleet racing,"
he said. "You might end up second."
Thursday saw the lightest wind in three days: 6-7 knots for the first two rounds, when wind-seeking skills appeared to outweigh the starts on the half-mile course that was a minefield of shifts and puffs. The sea breeze built to 10-12 knots for the last two rounds and seemed to return the racing to form---especially for Brady, who righted himself with two wins after a pair of opening losses.
Brady, already signed as on Oracle's helmsman for the 2007 America's Cup, said, "We got our act back together. If you do enough of this stuff and you're surrounded by winners like the Ross HALCROWS and Craig MONK, the wins will come."
Unlike Gilmour and Brady, Baird started the week with a strong but mixed crew of friends and relative strangers. Tactician Andy HORTON and trimmer John ZISKIND are regulars and bowman Rob MYLES has been an occasional crew member, but San Diego's Eric DOYLE, main trimmer, and Brett JONES, pit, were added for this event.
"It took us a while to get that comfort level among us,"
said Baird, who was 5-4 the first two days. "Every day of racing we do definitely helps. The level of all the teams is so high that if you bring your comfort level up just a little it makes a difference."
As Brady said, "The difference between wins and losses is often one tiny little mistake."
To complete his second perfect day of the week, Gilmour waited for New Zealand's Cameron APPLETON to do just that in the day's final round. The talented Kiwi led Gilmour near the first windward mark but got overanxious tactically.
With the wind swinging right, Appleton said, "We had to make sure we would keep him out of the right [side of the course] and looked for a chance to cross his bow. For some strange reason, then, I tried to tack back two lengths short of the layline to block him out and made an error."
Appleton not only drew a foul for tacking too closely, but Gilmour sailed around him to his 11th win of the week.
Gilmour, unlike most of his rivals, has no tactician standing behind him but has his own style of comfort level.
"I've just found that my personality is not well suited to having a tactician making the calls for me,"
he said. "Instead, I have two guys---Alan [Smith] and Rod [Dawson]---watching things for me. I'll listen to them and then make the calls."
Hutchinson has Chris LARSON, another world-class racer, as his tactician, but they have been sailing in hard luck this week. On Wednesday they lost a close race to Long Beach's Scott DICKSON after becoming entangled in another match, and Thursday they lost badly to Gilmour after some confusion with signals from the race committee boat.
Both were over the line early, and when Gilmour dipped to re-start the yellow flag dropped indicating he was clear, and the blue flag for Hutchinson started to drop for an instant before quickly being rehoisted. Hutchinson said he saw the blue flag dip and turned up the course, then looked back and saw it up again. He returned to re-start again, and Gilmour was long gone.
Hutchinson appealed for re-dress because of race committee error but was denied after a hearing. He didn't deny he jumped the start in the first place.
Racing continues into Saturday, starting at noon daily, conditions permitting. There is $25,000 in prize money, with $6,000 to the winning team.
Full results as well as video highlights of each day's racing may be replayed each evening on the club's website at the address below.