While the winds and some rivals blew hot and cold Friday, Australia's Peter GILMOUR led the way into Saturday's semifinals on a record of 15 wins and 2 losses and a nine-race win streak.
What does that mean?
said Gavin Brady to a laughing audience at the post-race press conference---and he should know.
Brady, a two-time winner in 1996 and '97 when the event had no sailoffs, has been in the finals the last two years without winning again, even though he was 16-2 before going up against Ken READ (10-8) for the Crimson Blazer a year ago.
The 18th and final flight of the double round-robin remains to be sailed, but Brady (12-6) and Americans Ed BAIRD and Terry HUTCHINSON (each 11-6) also have secured their spots in the best-of-three semis, to be followed by a best-of-three championship match.
Those final four were among the favourites going in, but until Friday Hutchinson, who won the Congressional Cup in 1992, couldn't keep his fire going. Then he swept through Brady, Scott Dickson, Kelvin HARRAP and luckless Allan COUTTS, who stands 0-17.
"We sailed the same today as we did yesterday,"
Hutchinson insisted. "Today we got s couple of breaks."
Hutchinson's Team Annapolis Volvo, with Chris LARSON calling tactics, put their best foot forward to win their first match against Brady, who guessed wrong by picking the left side of the half-mile-long race course.
Hutchinson said, "We just tacked [right] and got a nice lane of pressure, and Chris said, 'Just keep going. There's more breeze coming.' After five minutes of sailing, when we tacked everybody was full hiking, and Gavin still had guys leaning in. Whoever got to the breeze first was going to have a big lead."
Gilmour also got lucky, as if he needed to, when he trailed Jes GRAM-HANSEN hopelessly on the last leg of his third race and the Dane's spinnaker tore completely through the middle. Gilmour won by 59 seconds as the Dane limped to the finish line.
Through the afternoon a southwest sea breeze built quickly from 7 knots to as much as 20 and switched repeatedly through 20 to 25 degrees. That caused windward mark attendant Molly McCloud of the host Long Beach Yacht Club to continuously shuttle the inflatables back and forth to keep them directly upwind.
The odd phenomenon, though, was that when the wind came from the left it was the chilly breeze felt through the first three days, but when it shifted right it was warm and dry.
Finally, when it swung 60 degrees to the right and blew clouds of sand straight down the beach, principal race officer Bobby Frazier postponed the last three matches and finally abandoned the 18th round with the first two matches well under way.
Cameron APPLETON, who was leading Scott DICKSON by a half-minute more than halfway through, requested redress from the race jury but was denied.
The primary issue to be resolved now is Gilmour's selection of an opponent. He rated the other semifinalists, none of whom was on the match-racing circuit when he won the Congressional Cup in '88.
"Gavin's sort of naturally through the years been a quite feisty and aggressive sailor,"
Gilmour said. "[John] Kostecki sailing with him [as tactician] has kind of smoothed some of that out. Often they find it a little bit difficult if they're behind, but they're strong when they're ahead.
"I think Ed [Baird] is very reliable . . . always there. He's a good benchmark. If you're sailing well, you'll beat him. If you're not sailing well, he'll beat you.
"Terry [Hutchinson] . . . I really don't know a lot about him. He's probably less experienced than the other three in a match-racing sense."
Gilmour may have forgotten that he raced Hutchinson in the finals of the Knickerbocker Cup in New York in 1997, but Hutchinson hasn't.
"He beat us 2 to 1,"
Frazier hoped to start Saturday's racing an hour earlier than usual at 11 a.m., hoping to beat the major late-afternoon wind shift that has shortened the schedule the last three days. 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.