Mathieu Richard of France hadn't match-raced in seven months and Great Britain's Ian Williams was off for five, but they dealt better with weird conditions than anyone else in a 10-boat international field to share first place each with four wins and one loss after day one of the 49th Congressional Cup.
Not to mention Ed Baird, who had been away from the game for a few years but holds a share of third place at 3-2 with Italy's Simone Ferrarese.
It must mean something that Richard, Williams and Baird are all former winners of the event's traditional Crimson Blazer---Williams the last two---because the conditions were so atypical Long Beach, with its normally reliable southwest sea breeze a no-show until late in the afternoon.
Veterans and newcomers alike were boggled when the wind shifted around the clock through the afternoon---first from southeast, stirring up sand on the beach, then turning a hard left with a nor'easter from downtown and finally to the familiar southwest with velocities varying from 12 to 18 knots, with gusts to 22 over a choppy, course of whitecaps.
PRO Randy Smith and his mark boat laborers had their hands full all afternoon. The second round robin flight was abandoned after two of five races when the wind did a 180. Competitors suddenly found themselves dropping their spinnakers on the downwind legs of the two-lap matches around the 0.4-nautical mile windward-leeward course, then raising them after rounding the "leeward" mark to go … uh, upwind?
Even Williams' four-time world champion GAC Pindar team suffered confusion that they thought cost them their only loss of the day, to Richard.
"We had a penalty to erase, and we knew that you can do that with just a jibe and a tack downwind but have to do a [270-degree] circle upwind,"
Williams said, with some humor in his tone of voice.
But although they were sailing downwind toward the breakwater inside the Long Beach outer harbor they instinctively did the full upwind maneuver, which cost them just enough extra time for Richard to win by 16 seconds.
Richard agreed, "That may have made the difference."
Nevertheless, Williams said, "It was a good day for having good guys on the front of the boat getting the sails up and down."
Later, during the second flight, the race course aimed at downtown Long Beach shifted again to southwest---"normal" Long Beach---and kicked up from 15 to 18 knots, with gusts to 22, causing Smith to abandon the flight with only two of five matches completed. The other three were sailed at the end of the day.
Richard, who won the Congressional in 2007, said the Catalina 37s are a handful in conditions they saw Tuesday.
"Handling the boat is not easy in the strong breeze,"
he said, smiling, "but I guess we did better than the others."
Two round-robin rotations will be followed by sailoffs through Saturday. Competition is at Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier on the Long Beach outer harbor starting at noon daily, conditions permitting.
The Congressional has a $60,000 purse, including $15,000 to the winner, along with the traditional Crimson Blazer.