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16 April 2005, 07:18 am
Three Kiwis, One Frenchman In Semis
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Congressional Cup 2005
California, USA

There was only one pertinent question for Dean BARKER going into Saturday's championships sailoffs of the ISAF Grade 1 Congressional Cup, presented by Acura.
'Who's it gonna be - fellow New Zealanders Chris DICKSON or Russell COUTTS or France's Mathieu RICHARD?'

However, it most probably won't be another Kiwi.

The skippers for two of the top-rated three America's Cup teams in 2007 - Barker with Emirates Team New Zealand and Dickson with BMW Oracle Racing of San Francisco - are both former winners of the Crimson Blazer (Dickson has two) and each finished the double round robin with 14 wins and 4 losses Friday after splitting their head-on matches, but Barker gets to select his semifinal opponent by virtue of beating Dickson in their most recent race.

'We haven't chosen yet,' Barker said at the evening's press conference. 'We'll sleep on it tonight.'

Although Barker lost the undisputed lead to Dickson, it was only because Coutts, the only three-time America's Cup winner, interrupted his 10-race win streak. Otherwise, he had a 3-1 day and has won 11 of his last 12 races.

He also has an American wild card on board: pitman Moose MCCLINTOCK, who has sailed in 16 Congressional Cups since 1983 and been on four winning boats-two with Dave PERRY and one each with Barker's tactician, Terry HUTCHINSON, and Ken READ.

'These guys are really sailing well,' said McClintock, who isn't a regular member to the team. 'It's a privilege to be with them.'

Coutts (12-6), his former mentor, said he didn't think Barker would pick him - 'but he might.'

The smart money says that Barker will tag France's Mathieu RICHARD (11-7).

Nodding to Dickson seated on his left, Coutts said, 'I think it's likely we'll be racing Chris again tomorrow.'

They split their two races, both on Friday.

Richard doesn't care. 'I just feel very happy being in the top four,' he said.

None of the Kiwi troika considers the lesser-known Richard to be a pushover. Although he has no America's Cup connections, he is rated number 4 in the world by the International Sailing Federation, beat Dickson 2-0 in the semifinals of a recent event at Marseilles, and more than held his own against them this week, 1-1 across the board.

Dickson had said earlier, 'So we'd be happy if we weren't racing Richard. It's one of those times when you're happy not to have to choose.'

The semifinals and finals are scheduled as best-of-three, although an uncertain wind picture puts that at risk. Friday found what locals call a 'Catalina eddy' condition when the sea breeze arrives from the south off the east end of Santa Catalina Island 23 miles away, instead of down the San Pedro Channel in an accelerating funnel between the island and the mainland.

The breeze hit a brisk 10 knots for the last of four rounds sailed, reducing the potluck factor a bit.

Either way, Finland's Staffan LINDBERG will take it. After winding up tied with England's Chris LAW at 9-9, he said, 'To be out there on a boat all day is great. Normally [in other venues] you sit on the shore a lot and wait.'

Dickson lost the first race of the day to Coutts - a makeup of their Round 9 postponement - and then posted the day's best scorecard with four consecutive wins, including a closing 20-second victory over Coutts to even their score.

'The first one we rolled him on the run but couldn't stay there,' Dickson said.

In the second, they split opening tacks, and Dickson kept attacking from the left on port and Coutts, with starboard right of way, kept bouncing him off with lee-bow tacks until Dickson finally made it stick and pushed his bow out of Coutts' wind shadow into clear air. He rounded the weather mark first and stretched his lead unchallenged.

Coutts figured that, like his golf, he isn't quite on his game.

'I started better today,' he said, 'but I'm making some stupid mistakes. I probably could have held him off with a better tack, but I tacked too early. But we're still in the regatta, so I'm happy with that.'

Racing will start at noon, conditions permitting. The non-semifinalists will return to the course to sail off for fifth, seventh and ninth places and determine their shares of the $40,000 purse.

Rich Roberts (As Amended by ISAF). Image: Barker and Lars Nordbjerg lodge protests. Nordbjerg lost his case, © Event Media
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