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13 April 2005, 09:21 am
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Congressional Cup 2005
Long Beach, Ca. USA

It was like old times with everybody chasing Chris DICKSON (NZL). The experienced Kiwi whitewashed his opponents to finish the opening day of the ISAF Grade 1 Congressional Cup with an impressive 5-0 score line.
Fourteen years after winning the Congressional Cup for the second time, DICKSON returned with a crew from the BMW Oracle America's Cup team he leads to sweep five races for a narrow lead over an even more experienced rival, Great Britain's Chris LAW (GBR), 52, and France's Mathieu RICHARD, each of whom have a 4-1 score after the first day.

Before this year's 41 edition of the Congressional Cup, presented by Acura, all the hype had been about New Zealand's famous America's Cup skipper and Olympic gold medallist, Russell COUTTS (NZL). After day one he is tied with Dean BARKER (NZL), his successor at Emirates Team New Zealand, at 3-2. His day started slowly when he missed the skippers' meeting and then launched the completion in a slugfest with LAW in which he drew four penalties but was still in the fight to the finish.

It was a memorable race but a forgettable start for the three-time America's Cup winner who said at the evening press conference, to all-round laughter, 'I can't remember anything about the day.'

It ended with a loss to DICKSON's younger brother Scott DICKSON (USA), who caught a puff in the dying breeze to slip past and win handily.

'It's a tricky place to sail,' said COUTTS, who won an Olympic gold medal in the Finn class on these waters in 1984.

The wind was a soft but satisfactory eight to eleven knots for the first four rounds of 18 in the double round robin schedule. Prospects were for more of the same today, when COUTTS will meet DICKSON, BARKER, RICHARD and the winless, Chris LARSON (USA) to wrap up the first round.

Chris DICKSON, 42, raised the curtain with a comfortable win against his brother, Scott, 32, and then defeated France's Philippe PRESTI, RICHARD, LARSON and BARKER. The latter showing disappointment in attributing his 50-second loss to 'brain fade.' Only the race against RICHARD, who is ranked number four in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings, was close.

DICKSON beat RICHARD by nine seconds, the closest race of the day, because, as the Frenchman said, 'I made a bad mistake just before the start.'

That was when he offset an earlier pre-start foul by DICKSON by drawing one of his own. 'But it was a good day for us,' RICHARD said, adding that he was concerned about his unfamiliarity with the boats.

'It was the first time [sailing the Catalina 37s] and I was uncomfortable,' he said. 'Usually we sail on smaller boats, like 24 feet, with only four people on the boat.'

DICKSON said, 'We're privileged to be five and zero because the results are a little more impressive than the sailing.'

The rest of the crew is tactician John KOSTECKI (USA), main trimmer Paul WESTLAKE (AUS), trimmer Ross HALCROW (NZL), bowman Kazuhiko SOFUKU (JPN) and pitman Craig MONK (NZL).

Although DICKSON has sailed only four match racing events in four years, he said, 'We've all been sailing together for two years and a bit of that showed today. John KOSTECKI made some good calls.'

LAW, sailing with a crew from South Africa's Team Shosholoza America's Cup campaign, tangled with COUTTS at the leeward mark and COUTTS got all the worst of it, drawing successive penalties and hitting the mark.

LAW conceded, 'We were lucky. We probably should have given him room, but the calls can go that way and we'll take it.'

A lap later COUTTS had recovered to claim the inside advantage as they sailed to the finish and took LAW past the outside of the line. But when he turned back hoping to scrub off his remaining penalty turn and beat LAW to the line he pinched off his opponent between himself and the committee boat, causing a bump or two and his final penalty.

All told, in the day's 25 races there were 41 protest flags waved by the sailors and 14 penalties imposed by the umpires - about average.

Racing continues until Saturday.

Rich Roberts (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Chris DICKSON stalks Philippe PRESTI:© Event Media
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