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15 April 2005, 09:20 am
Kiwis On Top
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Congressional Cup 2005
Long Beach, California, USA

A clean sweep of his races yesterday puts Dean BARKER (NZL) at the top of the leaderboard in the ISAF Grade 1 Congressional Cup. Fellow Kiwi Chris DICKSON maintained his good form and Russell COUTTS (NZL) is also right amongst the battle for the semifinal places.
It felt like it was coming together for BARKER yesterday, not just the 41st Congressional Cup, presented by Acura, but the America's Cup in Valencia in 2007.

BARKER, skipper for Emirates Team New Zealand, won all five of his races, including a final light-air runaway against DICKSON that allowed him to leapfrog the CEO and skipper for one of his fellow AC challengers, BMW Oracle Racing, two years before they met again in Valencia.

BARKER is 11-3 after 14 of 18 matches in the double round robin, followed now by DICKSON, who is 10-3 but has one makeup race in hand against COUTTS. COUTTS himself is third at 9-4. That makeup race, postponed a day earlier when DICKSON's traveller car broke, will be sailed Friday or Saturday before the semifinal sailoffs.

However it turns out, the teams with America's Cup intentions should be the better for the experience. It is different from sailing in the big one but a good training ground because of the smaller boats, shorter courses and shorter races.

'When things happen a lot quicker, it puts pressure on everybody,' BARKER said. 'That makes you better. This is the first time I've sailed with our team in an event on the [match racing] circuit. We talk a lot between races about how we can do things better.'

As for that next America's Cup, COUTTS, sailing here with tactician Jes GRAM-HANSEN's Danish crew, will be a spectator after playing the key role in the previous three victories over the past decade. In posting a 4-1 record yesterday he was sailing with the command he showed then and in winning three events on the Swedish Match Tour in the past year. Results that have seen him rise to ninth in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings, despite his lack of competition compared to other highly rated sailors like ISAF World Match Race Rankings' number four and rival here in Long Beach, Mathieu RICHARD (FRA).

BARKER's crew here includes two Americans: tactician Terry HUTCHINSON and pitman Moose McCLINTOCK, who is sailing his 16th Congressional Cup with his fourth skipper. The others are Kiwis Skip BAXTER, main sail trimmer; James DAGG, headsail trimmer, and Jeremy LOMAS, bow. All except McCLINTOCK are Team New Zealand members. BARKER said, 'Everything fell our way today. We were lucky to pick the right side most of the day . . .'

'Lucky?!' HUTCHINSON interrupted, feigning indignation.

A year ago, in dying breeze on the last leg of the last race, HUTCHINSON appeared to have a grip on his second Crimson Blazer, symbolic of victory in this event. It was like history repeating this year as, DICKSON trailed by two minutes, 14 seconds at the last mark after sailing into the same area on the second upwind leg where HUTCHINSON's hopes of a second victory died against Ed BAIRD (USA) a year earlier.

Against DICKSON, HUTCHINSON said he was thinking, 'This is about the same lead we had on BAIRD. We did a lot better today in sailing with more conviction and not sailing the other guy's race. Until now we've just spent a lot of time hanging our together, and we have two years to get to the level where we can win the America's Cup.'

BARKER and DICKSON are good bets to reach the semifinals, but the other two positions are up for grabs among COUTTS, RICHARD (9-5) and England's Chris LAW and Finland's Staffan LINDBERG, both of whom are 8-6.

LINDBERG said, 'We're still in the hunt, but the heat gets turned up in the kitchen tomorrow.'

LINDBERG survived by beating LAW in the last round of racing yesterday, as the winds diminished from a peak of 13 knots to light and patchy.

Earlier, LAW and Denmark's Lars NORDBJERG, who has local veteran Steve FLAM (USA) calling tactics, had what LAW called a 'ding-dong match.'

The second time upwind, with NORDBJERG trailing and carrying a pre-start penalty, LAW crossed him with starboard tack right of way, then wheeled back so aggressively that he drew a red flag penalty from the umpires for a flagrant foul, meaning that he was required to do the penalty turn immediately.

As LAW did his turn, NORDBJERG came at him hoping to draw a foul that would cancel his own but drew another instead. Then, with a slight lead and a controlling position downwind, he took LAW outside the committee boat well past the finish line, then turned back hoping to do his turn before LAW could pass. Instead, LAW poked his bow inside and NORDBJERG left too little room between his boat and the committee boat, LAW bounced off both, NORDBJERG took another penalty and it was over.

Earlier, LAW had opened the day by beating COUTTS, who could never shook off an early penalty.

COUTTS said, 'The last time we raced Chris [in the first round] we had four penalties, so one is a big improvement.'

There were 41 protest flags in the 25 races and 15 penalties imposed. Racing continues through until the final on Saturday.

Rich Roberts (As Amended By ISAF). Image, LAW and NORDJERG's 'ding-dong' match:© Event Media
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