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11 April 2002, 08:28 pm
Holmberg Leads
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Congressional Cup
California

They are Moose and Battler and John, Graham and Brad, and in the back of the boat it's Humbug at the helm, and together they comprise the deadliest strike force in match race sailing.
"Teamwork," skipper Peter Holmberg said---he's "Humbug"--after continuing his domination of the 38th Congressional Cup with a 9-0 record at the end of the first round robin Wednesday. "We're just getting more confident with each other. It's a rhythm, like a band that plays together."

Holmberg's combo is pounding the opposition like a steel drum band back home in his U.S. Virgin Islands. They have won the last two events on the Swedish Match Tour to boost their skipper to No. 1 in the world rankings and haven't made a seriously wrong move in two days against a strong field in contrasting conditions---light wind under an overcast sky Wednesday after a brisk breeze Tuesday.

Holmberg's crew is all New Zealanders, and all are key players in software billionaire Larry Ellison's Oracle Racing America's Cup campaign for San Francisco's Golden Gate Yacht Club. "Moose" is main sail trimmer Mike Sanderson, "Battler" is trimmer Robbie Naismith, and the others are tactician John Cutler---himself a major player in three previous America's Cups, pitman Graham Fleury and bowman Brad Webb. "We all have different jobs," Webb said, "but we back each other up and cross over occasionally to do whatever needs to be done."

The other nine skippers will have one more chance at Holmberg's rockin' group in the second round robin starting Thursday, trying to block Holmberg's bid to win his fourth Congressional Cup in five years. The top four then will advance to Saturday's semifinals and finals.

The wind never reached double digits Thursday while oscillating through 30 to 40 degrees, making strategy---whether to hit the left or right side of the windward-leeward course---more important than boat speed. Thus, there were many lead changes that had severely shuffled the field by the end of the day.

Ken Read, leading the Team Dennis Conner bid, is Holmberg's nearest threat with a 6-3 record, but nobody else has managed to put two decent days together. Team New Zealand's Dean Barker and Prada's Rod Davis got back into contention with 3-1 afternoons, but Denmark's No. 3-ranked Jes Gram-Hansen slid from 4-1 to 5-4 with a 1-3 day, the same agony suffered by Scott Dickson and Prada's Gavin Brady.

Otherwise, there were only 23 protest flags waved and 8 penalties imposed, compared to 42 and 6 the previous day.

Standings (after 9 of 18 rounds):

1. Peter Holmberg, 9-0;
2. Ken Read, 6-3;
3. tie between Dean Barker and Jes Gram-Hansen, 5-4;
5. tie among Scott Dickson, Rod Davis, Ed Baird and Gavin Brady, 4-5; 9. Andy Green, 3-6;
10. Luc Pillot, 1-8. - Rich Roberts
Congressional Cup Press/News Editor
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