Peter Holmberg validated his new No. 1 ranking in the world and on the Swedish Match Tour by winning his fourth Congressional Cup in five years Saturday, but not before Gavin Brady had him twisting in the wind.
"I sweated more in that race than in any other final," Holmberg said after dispatching Brady, 2-1, in a fickle dying breeze. "It's tough on the nerves."
For the second successive year Holmberg spotted his opponent the first race of the championship finals before firing back to win the next two and yet another Crimson Blazer, emblematic of victory in the 38-year-old match race sailing classic staged by the Long Beach Yacht Club. Last year it was France's Bertrand Pacé in a nautical slugfest; this time it was a war of nerves against a young but formidable two-time winner of the event.
For the first few minutes the deciding race looked like a rout, but a sudden wind shift in Brady's favor made it a contest to the finish.
Holmberg, who collected $6,000 of the $25,000 purse, is from the U.S. Virgin Islands, but his home these days is wherever there is match racing to be done or an America's Cup to win. He came to town freshly ranked No. 1 after winning the previous two events on the international Swedish Match Tour. Except for a three-race slump at the start of the second round, he and his crew from billionaire Larry Ellison's Oracle Racing campaign resoundingly validated that status by breezing through the double round robin with 15 wins in 18 races.
Then they fought off Britain's Andy Green in the semifinals, 2-1, before dispatching Brady by the same score. Holmberg, 40, thus joined Rod Davis as a four-time winner, but this may have been the strongest field either of them ever faced in their victories. They were two of seven competitors from America's Cup teams who will be facing off again in New Zealand in October.
Brady, 29, is a native of New Zealand who lives in Annapolis and sails with Davis for Prada. A winner here in 1996 and '97, he reached the finals by winning six of his last seven races, including a 2-0 sweep of Team Dennis Conner's Ken Read in the semifinals.
The fifth and last day of the event was tough on all the competitors. Against a backdrop of fog but a sunny sky, they were on the water for seven hours, first to finish the last two flights of the double round robin schedule, then for the sailoffs. At least for the first time in four days they found enough wind to start on time, and soon it built to 17 knots, the strongest breeze of the week.
Green, from the UK's GBR Challenge, won a tiebreaker off Denmark's Jes Gram- Hansen and Long Beach's own New Zealand transplant, Scott Dickson, to advance to the semis from a 9-9 deadlock. Holmberg picked him as his dance partner, but Green was a stubborn date before submitting after Holmberg blocked him out behind the committee boat in the start of their deciding race.
Meanwhile, Brady took two straight from Read, who then swept Green, 2-0, for third place.
Read was bothered when the on-water umpires penalized him for a collision with Brady that he thought was not his fault, but he praised the event.
"This yacht club and this event are absolutely top-notch," Read said. "No yacht club in the world puts on a better regatta."
In the main event, Brady drew Holmberg into a foul during the pre-start maneuvering for tactical advantage. Holmberg canceled out the foul on the first downwind leg by planting one on Brady, who the umpires ruled had sailed above his proper course to the mark to keep Holmberg at bay. But Brady held on to win by 15 seconds.
By then the wind had dropped to 8-10 knots, less than ideal breeze for the hefty Catalina 37s to flex their muscle, but Holmberg again proved to be a master of the beasts. He led Brady across the start line by pinching just inside the left marker flag and stretched his lead throughout to win by a whopping 61 seconds.
For the finale, both skippers luffed into a two-minute staredown before taking an even start in opposite directions. Holmberg went left while Brady went right---straight into a windless patch of water. Coming back to converge, Holmberg appeared to have a 50-yard lead, but suddenly the wind---now only 5 or 6 knots---swung 45 degrees to the right and brought Brady back into contention.
Holmberg's pitman, Graham Fleury, said, "It was fun---and then, 'Uh-oh.' "
From there, Holmberg worked to hold a lead of two or three boat lengths until crossing the line 13 seconds ahead.
"Gavin made us work real hard," Holmberg said. "To win this one is huge."
Brady said, "I don't think we sailed that well all week. Pete was going to be a tough guy to knock off."
Results (skippers listed by America's Cup affiliations or home bases):
Scott Dickson, Long Beach, def. Rod Davis, Prada, Italy, 6 seconds.
Ken Read, Team Dennis Conner, USA, def. Ed Baird, St. Petersburg,
Andy Green, GBR Challenge, UK, def. Luc Pillot, Le Defí Areva, France,
Jes Gram-Hansen, Denmark, def. Dean Barker, Team New Zealand, 0:19.
Peter Holmberg, Oracle Racing, USA, def. Gavin Brady, Prada, Italy, 0:33.
Read d. Dickson, 0:44.
Davis d. Green, 0:30.
Brady d. Baird, 0:41.
Barker d. Pillot, 0:22.
Holmberg d. Gram-Hansen, 0:13.
FINAL ROUND-ROBIN STANDINGS (18 rounds)---1. Holmberg, 15-3; 2. Read,
12-6; 3. Brady, 10-8; 4. tie among Green, Gram-Hansen ($1,700) and Dickson
($1,700), 9-9 (Green advances to semifinals on tiebreaker); 7. tie between
Davis ($1,500) and Barker ($1,500), 8-10; 9. Baird ($1,200), 6-12; 10.
Pillot ($1,000), 4-14.
Brady d. Read, 0:12.
Brady d. Read, 0:14.
Holmberg d. Green, 0:25.
Green d. Holmberg (DNF).
Holmberg d. Green, 0:18.
Read d. Green, 0:21.
Read ($3,000) d. Green ($2,500), 0:11.
Brady d. Holmberg, 0:15.
Holmberg d. Brady, 1 minute 1 second.
Holmberg ($6,000) d. Brady ($4,500), 0:13.