Chris Dickson, recently placed on a leave of absence with the Oracle Racing America's Cup team training in Auckland, N.Z., arrived unannounced at the Long Beach Yacht Club at mid-day Monday to join his younger brother Scott as tactician.
The boats had already left the harbor to practice, but Dickson immediately jumped on a chase boat to join Scott, a Long Beach resident who represents the host club.
For the next five days starting Tuesday, they will compete on Catalina 37s against crews from six America's Cup teams, including defending champion Peter Holmberg, representing Oracle.
Chris Dickson deflected questions about whether he had or needed permission from Oracle to participate in others events, as Paul Cayard has after he was consigned to shoreside duties late last year.
"I'm not here to talk about Oracle," Dickson said after returning from the water. "I'm here to help the little brother through the week."
Chris Dickson, formerly the world's top-ranked match racer, won the Congressional in 1990 and '91 and called tactics for Scott when the latter finished second in '98. Although Chris won't be driving, his presence gives the event five former winners on the 10 boats, along with Holmberg ('98, '99 and '01), Rod Davis ('81, '85, '89 and '93), Gavin Brady ('97-'97) and Dean Barker (2000).
Holmberg recently soared to first place in the ISAF world match racing rankings and the Swedish Match Tour, which now includes the Congressional Cup.
The fleet, with their affiliations and new and previous ISAF rankings:
"Peter Holmberg, Oracle Racing, 1 (2); Jes Gram-Hansen, Denmark, 3 (5); Luc Pillot, Le Defí Areva, 7 (7); "Gavin Brady, Prada, 8 (8); "Dean Barker, Team New Zealand, 18 (19); Ed Baird, USA, 19 (18); "Rod Davis, Prada, 23 (39); Andy Green, GBR Challenge, 31 (30); Ken Read, Team Dennis Conner, 38 (46); Scott Dickson, USA, unranked.
The lineup includes the last six winners: Holmberg in 1998, '99 and 2001, Barker in 2000, Brady in '96 and '97, and Davis, the only four-time winner, in '81, '85, '89 and '93---the first two when he was a California resident before moving to New Zealand. Davis jumped from 39th to 23rd in the rankings by reaching the Steinlager/Line 7 semifinals, where he lost to Holmberg, 2-1.
Holmberg is from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but he's almost as much at home in Long Beach, and not only because he has won three of the last four Congressionals.
"I trained here for the '84 Olympics," he said, "lived here for six months. For me, it's familiar territory. It's in the back of your mind that you've done it here before, but it's not going to get you through."
The Catalina 37s, introduced in the 1990 Congressional Cup, are the SUVs of the world match racing circuit---the biggest boats and the only ones with steering wheels instead of tillers. Equipped with masthead jibs, their straight-line speed is not extraordinary, but they are extremely agile for the pre-star jousting unique to match racing.
Each boat will have a crew of five, including the skipper/helmsman. They will sail a double round robin climaxing with best-of-three semifinals and finals on Saturday.
The action in the Long Beach outer harbor may be viewed from the end of Belmont Pier, which will have bleachers and narration for spectators at no charge.