Peter GILMOUR seems bent on making the world of match racing his own private pond, the Australian veteran blew out of the gate with five wins in as many races on the first day of the XL Congressional Cup.
"It was fun to be back on the water,"
he said. "It was a beautiful day out there."
Easy for him to say. The first day's results ranged from his 5-0 perfecto, shadowed closely by New Zealand's Gavin BRADY and Denmark's Jes GRAM-HANSEN at 4-1, to a windup round that saw two guys named Dickson and Coutts fighting each other to avoid the prospect of starting 0-5---Long Beach's Scott DICKSON, younger brother of Chris, and New Zealand's Allen COUTTS, nephew of Russell.
Dickson won, salvaging a measure of local pride.
The standard Long Beach sea breeze was chilly for late April, but as it built from 7 to 15 knots through the afternoon Bobby FRAZIER'S race committee snapped off five fast rounds with hardly a hiccup, leaving 13 rounds to sail leading into Saturday's best-of-three semifinals and finals. The course was a half-mile windward-leeward, twice around, with the Queen Mary a distant backdrop in the harbour.
While the first round proceeded mildly, noteworthy mainly for Gram-Hansen's 30-second win over Brady, the level of aggression soon accelerated to a flurry of red and yellow "Y" protest flags. Through the day there were 45 protests; 16 resulted in penalties by the umpires tracking the races, including a red flag against New Zealand's Kelvin HARRAP (2-3) for a flagrant foul, meaning he had to do his penalty turn immediately.
"That's a lot more than I would have thought,"
said Jack LLOYD, the chief umpire from New Zealand.
Whether it foretold an outbreak of water rage for the week remained to be seen, but it was evident that the younger members of the diverse lineup weren't shy about asserting themselves.
Gilmour's Pizza-La team, for the most part, stayed above the fray, but after sweeping through Coutts, Terry HUTCHINSON, Harrap, New Zealand's Cameron APPLETON and Sweden's RAHM, the skipper insisted his day wasn't as easy as it appeared.
"We had some interesting [as in mediocre] starts,"
he said. "Harrap was ahead of us and Appleton's spinnaker fell down, but we also were sailing very well around the race course."
Gilmour last sailed the Congressional Cup when he won it in 1988. In those days the event was run on the open ocean in borrowed Catalina 38s. The only other time he sailed a Catalina 37---the match-racing specialty boats built for the event in 1990---was in the World Match Racing Championship in 1996 as leader of the Pizza-La team.
The core of the team---Gilmour, Yasuhiro YAJI, Sofuku KAZUHIKO, Alan SMITH and Michael MOTTL---has been together for nearly 10 years since Gilmour coached Nippon Challenge in the 1994-95 America's Cup at San Diego. Rod DAWSON joined the team last year.
Gilmour, whose home is in Perth, seemed a bit surprised by their successful day. "We hadn't raced since the Nippon Cup,"
he said. "I spent the [Down Under] summer diving for lobsters and crayfish."
A dockside post-race interview with Yasuhiro was interrupted when Gilmour handed him a mobile phone. The Kyodo News syndicate was on the line. The team is big news in Japan.
"When we're in Japan we're always signing autographs,"
Gilmour said. "The results all go on TV over there. As a result, a lot of young Japanese sailors are interested in match racing."
Pizza-La, pronounced peetz-AH-lah, is the 900-outlet gourmet pizza chain owned by their sponsor, Hidenori ASANO. "He's been with us through three America's Cup campaigns,"
Gilmour said, "including [Seattle's] One World [in 2002-03]."
But none of the flag waging was by people ordering pizza. Several races turned on penalties. Brady took one when he fouled Gram-Hansen trying to escape a trap at the pin end of the starting line. Hutchinson took two pre-start penalties against Gilmour, although he still managed to make a contest of their match.
Racing starts at noon daily, conditions permitting. There is $25,000 in prize money, with $6,000 to the winning team.
Full results are available on the event website at the address below.