Phil Robertson remembers the last time he competed in the Congressional Cup.
"Three years ago," the New Zealander said Tuesday after winning Stage One of the 50th event with nine wins and one loss. "I tied for ninth with Taylor Canfield, but I had him on tiebreakers and kept him in last place. He won the book."
"The book" is "Race Your Boat Right," by the late racing legend Arthur Knapp Jr. traditional awarded to the last-place finisher.
Robertson, 26 and World #4, and Canfield, 25, of the U.S. Virgin Islands and now World #1 will meet again over the next few days in Stage Two of the Congressional Cup Wednesday through Sunday.
Robertson and the next three of six competitors in Stage One will join Canfield along with five former Congressional Cup winners: Ian Williams (GBR) (World #2), defending champion Simone Ferrarese (World #16) of Italy, Mathieu Richard of France (World #5), Johnie Berntsson of Sweden (World #14) and 2010 winner Francesco Bruni (World #102) of Italy.
Robertson made the most of a moderate southwest breeze of 8 knots sweeping the Long Beach outer harbor by winning all five of his races, including a win over first-day leader Dave Perry, who had 6 wins and 4 losses in the double round-robin, by a close but comfortable 14 seconds. Perry followed at 6-4, followed by local veteran Scott Dickson, 5-5, edging Australia's Keith Swinton also 5-5, on a tiebreaker. Dustin Durant of Long Beach finished out of the money at 3-7, while Christopher Poole of Oyster Bay, N.Y, was 2-8.
This will be the fourth appearance in the Congressional Cup by Canfield. After his humble effort in 2011, he lost to Williams in the semifinals in 2012 and was sixth in 2013 with a 9-9 record. From there he became the youngest to win the world match racing championship and had three victories over three years on the tough Alpari World Match Racing Tour. His US One Sailing Team crew is Rod Dawson, Hayden Goodrick, Mike Rehe, Dan Morris and Brian Janney.
"I would not have been successful in 2013 without my team,"
Canfield said when he received the Virgin Islands Sailor of the Year award recently. "Just because we grew up on a small island in the Caribbean doesn't keep any of us from becoming something we want more than anything else in the world."
For winning Stage One, Robertson received the Ficker Cup, which honors 1974 Congressional Cup winner Bill Ficker, who also skippered the 1970 America's Cup winner Intrepid.
Steve Van Dyck, a five-time America's Cup veteran, including as Ficker's tactician in 1970, said, "Bill was very disappointed not to be here tonight, but I know he would say it is an honor to be able to put up the Ficker Cup and promote match racing, and congratulate Phil Robertson on having won."
Van Dyck, who sailed in the inaugural Congressional Cup with Knapp, noted, "It's a remarkable experience to stand here 50 years later and see that the template Long Beach Yacht Club used 50 years ago still applies."
He called it "a neat event with a consistently high quality of the venue, boats and race management, and competitive sailing. And this venue is great for people to come out and watch. With several matches going on simultaneously, there's enough going on to provide something of interest all the time."
Stage Two racing is scheduled to start daily at 11:30 local time, conditions permitting.
If the decisive day of Stage One was a preview, it's going to be colossal five days. Unlike a relatively civil Monday, on Tuesday there were four collisions and there were more protest flags than pelicans flying the length of the one-mile windward-leeward course.
Dickson, Swinton and Poole all suffered half-point deductions from their total scores for causing "excessive damage."
Dickson recounted his pre-start incident with Durant, "[It was] right after Keith [Swinton] did the same thing to me. I hit him so hard that my bow was wedged into his transom for about five seconds. I felt I was driving a Catalina 74 … twice the length [at] half the speed."
But at the end of that race, with Dickson leading while carrying a penalty, he pulled off a perfect spinnaker drop and penalty turn to win by half a boat length.
Swinton drew two such fouls and Poole another, but none of the point deductions altered the final positions.
Later, Robertson executed a memorable maneuver while trailing Durant at the second windward mark, with Durant between him and the buoy. As Durant passed the buoy Robertson ducked behind him and shot up sharply inside of his opponent, then sailed away with the lead.