A morning buffet of lightning, thunder, rain and sunshine welcomed some of the world's best sailors to the Long Beach Yacht Club's 47th Congressional Cup on Monday.
That was the weather preview for the week of the most prestigious Grade 1 match racing event in the United States that starts today with the first of two round robins leading to Saturday's championship sailoffs. Racing will start daily at 11:30 local time or later, as conditions permit.
Francesco Bruni of Italy is the defending champion, and he'll be going against three former winners. Dave Perry
(USA) (1983, 1984), Mathieu Richard
(FRA) (2007) and Johnie Berntsson
The field is packed full of other match racing talent including Ian Williams
(GBR) Eugeniy Neugodnikov
(RUS), Philip Robertson
(NZL) Staffan Lindberg
(FIN), Simone Ferrarese
(ITA) and Taylor Canfield
of the U.S. Virgin Islands who qualified by winning last summer's Grade 2 Trifecta Events series at Chicago, Detroit and Manhasset Bay, N.Y.
Williams hasn't won the Congressional Cup but brings in a strong resume, mostly built after he shelved his law career. Second in a previous appearance, he said, "The fact that we're here is significant. I've been trying to come back for the last five or six years. It's a great regatta, and coming in second I feel like it's unfinished business.
"It's also a great start to the year to get the team together, we get in a lot racing to jump-start our year."
His tactician this week is an American, Bill Hardesty, a San Diego native who is involved with building the program at the Chicago Match Racing Center.
"We won a world championship together [in 2007] and three World [Match Racing] Tour regattas together,"
Williams and Hardesty each noted the Congressional Cup's hospitable appeal to competitors.
"This is kind of on an upper scale, with all the [club member] volunteers,"
Perry said, "Instead of one person holding the door for you, there's a bunch of people holding the door."
Also, crews don't need to share boats. The sturdy Catalina 37s they race are 21 years old but there is one for everybody, plus a spare.
"That's one of the great things about the event," Williams said. "You get a lot of sailing."
Meantime, the event takes note of the recent passing of Gerry Driscoll, a sailing icon from the San Diego area who won the first two Congressional Cups in 1965 and '66, forever placing his name atop the list that includes many of the world's best sailors of the last half-century. Driscoll died at his home in La Jolla, Calif. He was 87.
The racing will be off Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier in east Long Beach, well inside the breakwater of the outer Long Beach Harbour. There is public parking at the base of the pier and free shuttles out to the end, where there is expert commentary, limited seating, a snack bar, restaurant and comfort stations.
Principal race officer Randy Smith, already challenged by the erratic winds for last weekend's Ficker Cup that ushered Ferrarese into this event, issued the following weather forecast for the week.
"It appears that we will have good breeze every day but not too much. There is rain in the marine forecast for 4 of 5 days, so it will likely be a wet year. But my weather models make me more optimistic. In any case, make sure you all have proper foul weather gear, boots or waterproof socks and warm clothes."