The way Ken Read sees it, the pressure is off. `To me,' he said after yesterday's racing in light and tricky winds, `the pressure here is to get to the final four and then have some fun.'
The serious fun will start Saturday after the last two rounds of a double round robin. Then the top four will sail best-of-three semifinals and finals. Read, whose Team Dennis Conner crew has won 10 of 16 races, is in the sailoffs, tucked quietly behind Peter Holmberg, the defending champion and No. 1-ranked match racer in the world.
Holmberg, humbled by his first three losses a day earlier, found his misplaced groove for a 3-0 sweep that left him at 13-3, which merely gives him the privilege of picking which of the other three semifinalists he will meet.
Two-time winner Gavin Brady (9-7) now sits third after a 3-0 day of his own, partly at the expense of Prada teammate and onetime mentor Rod Davis, who at 46 is the event's oldest competitor and only four-time winner. Brady all but secured his place in the sailoffs when he drove Davis to the precipice at 7-9 alongside Team New Zealand's Dean Barker with an 18-second victory.
There is a trio on the bubble at 8-8: local hope Scott Dickson, who plunged from 4-0 Thursday to 0-3 Friday; No. 3-ranked Jes Gram-Hansen, who recovered from a seven-race losing streak, and Britain's Andy Green. Ed Baird is 6-10 and France's Luc Pillot 4-12.
Pillot, although ranked No. 7 internationally, has clinched the event's traditional booby prize known simply as "the book." It is Arthur Knapp's treasure, "Race Your Boat Right."
Davis still had his sense of humor. "At least we won't get the book," he said. "We sailed all day worrying about that."
Anything is possible in this company. Davis, who won his first Crimson Blazer in 1981, said earlier, "This field is light years ahead of any I've seen at the Congressional Cup."
Part of the impetus is the America's Cup. Seven of the 10 teams here have a stake in sailing's greatest prize, so it was appropriate that while they drifted inshore for two hours waiting for wind Friday, far offshore loomed the tall, distinct outline of an International America's Cup Class rig.
While Read and his crew raced this week, the rest of Conner's team has resumed training USA 66, which is back on the daily grind after losing its mast a few weeks ago. The team is based amid the massive cargo shipping operations on Terminal Island in Los Angeles Harbor.
"This is the lightest air we've seen here in 2 1/2 months," Read said.
The first race was delayed 2 1/2 hours, and when the wispy onshore zephyrs did arrive they never exceeded 6 or 7 knots and played hide and seek with the fleet throughout what was left of the afternoon.
"If you polled all the tacticians today they'd say there were wrong more than right," Read said. "But Terry [Hutchinson of TDC] is doing an awesome job. He's as good at seeing the breeze as anyone I've sailed with."
Hutchinson won the Congressional in 1992.
Holmberg's tactician, John Cutler, said, "You're looking at the boats racing in front of you and looking up the course at the [wind] pressure [on the water]. We had a plan and things worked out most of the time."
But he was 3-0. Peter Evans, a longtime New Zealand friend who is Barker's tactician, was 0-3.
"We always had the option to go the way we wanted, but it's a very short course," Evans said. "You run out of time and distance to do what you want to do."
Brady said the sailors were racing the conditions as much as one another. "The last three days have been the hardest sailing I've had in match racing in a long time," he said, "probably closer to how the America's Cup is than the usual racing we do."
The action in the Long Beach outer harbor may be viewed from the end of Belmont Pier, where there is commentary for spectators at no charge. Racing starts at noon, wind conditions permitting---which they haven't since Tuesday.
The Congressional Cup's total purse is $25,000. The top eight finishers receive Swedish Match Tour Championship Prize points. The top eight point leaders at the conclusion of the Swedish Match Tour divide a $200,000 prize purse, with the Swedish Match Tour champion receiving $60,000.
Congressional Cup sponsors include F&M Bank, Trojan Battery, Jones Lumber, Port of Long Beach and Mondavi Winery.
Results (skippers listed by America's Cup affiliations or home bases):
Jes Gram-Hansen, Denmark, def. Luc Pillot, Le Defí Areva, France (did not finish).
Ken Read, Team Dennis Conner, USA, def. Andy Green, GBR Challenge, UK, 1:15.
Gavin Brady, Prada, Italy, def. Scott Dickson, Long Beach, 0:25.
Rod Davis, Prada, Italy, def. Dean Barker, Team New Zealand, 0:26.
Peter Holmberg, Oracle Racing, USA, def. Ed Baird, St. Petersburg, Fla., 2 minutes 2 seconds.
Green d. Dickson, 0:50.
Brady d. Davis, 0:18.
Baird d. Barker, 0:34.
Holmberg d. Pillot, 0:19.
Gram-Hansen d. Read, 0:30.
Holmberg d. Barker, 0:53.
Gram-Hansen d. Dickson, 0:19.
Read d. Davis, 0:26.
Green d. Baird, 0:40.
Brady d. Pillot, 0:23.
STANDINGS (after 16 of 18 rounds)
1. Holmberg, 13-3
2. Read, 10-6
4. tie among Dickson, Gram-Hansen and Green, 8-8
7. tie between Barker and Davis, 7-9; 9. Baird, 6-10
10. Pillot, 4-12.