His unbeaten string down the drain, Gavin Brady (NZL) overcame a penalty to defeat Australia's James Spithill Friday in what may have been a preview of Saturday's championship of the Long Beach Yacht Club's 39th Congressional Cup.
"That was Gavin's wake-up call,"
said Chris Larson, Brady's American tactician. "After that he woke up and got into it."
The 18th and final round robin flight remains to be sailed, but Brady (15-2) and Spithill (12-5) were already assured of semifinal positions, and Ken Read of Newport, R.I. and Italy's Paulo Cian slammed the door on anyone else's hopes by winning all three of their races Friday to remain tied at 10-7. Cian has won both matches between the two.
This is the fifth of nine stops on the Swedish Match Tour, where Denmark's Jes Gram-Hansen and Jesper Radich are ranked 1-2. Here they stand at 7-10 and 6-11, a clue to the quality of the competition for this first post-America's Cup tour event.
Chris Law, the '94 winner but 7-10 this year, suggested that it is no coincidence that all four semifinalists are coming off the Auckland experience. Spithill was helmsman for Seattle's OneWorld, Read the skipper for Team Dennis Conner and Cian a helmsman for Mascalzone Latino. All are sailing with other refugees from those campaigns.
As for Brady, who was with Prada but seldom on the boat, he had noted earlier, "I mostly sat on my [behind] for six months."
Spithill, 23, shares third place with Law in the rankings for the current 2002-03 Swedish Match Tour. He won the Trombini event at Ravenna, Italy last summer.
Brady, 29, is five times a bridesmaid on the tour but never a winner, although he won the Congressional Cup in 1996 and '97 before the tour was created.
Losses to Radich and Read in his first two races Friday were Brady's first setbacks this week, and after hitting the dock following his dramatic win over Spithill he indicated again he was merely human.
Larson said, "He came back from playing tennis this morning and said, 'I think I hurt my back.' "
Brady left immediately after racing to seek treatment, but his problem was not thought to be a serious injury. He was certainly on his game by the end of the day.
After incurring a penalty in a "dial-up" situation two minutes before the start against Spithill, Brady carried a 22-second lead the last half-mile from the final mark to the finish line, where he and his mostly Kiwi crew executed a perfect spinnaker drop and circle around the pin-end flag to exonerate themselves and hold off Spithill by three seconds---less than a boat length.
"We actually had a couple seconds to spare,"
Spithill's tactician, Charlie McKee, said, "We said we had to close up about a boat length and a half to make it. But this really wasn't a day about the people at the top. For us, the regatta starts [Saturday]."
Spithill started the series modestly but won six consecutive races until meeting Brady.
"I finally got my act together starting,"
he said, "and our boys tidied up the boat handling."
Read, third here last year, started even worse. He was over the starting line early in his first race Tuesday and didn't get over .500 until Friday.
"I'm clearly getting my game back again,"
he said. "The other guys were dragging me around the race course for a couple of days."
One issue remains to be settled in todays's final flight. France's Luc Pillot (5-12) is sitting on the event's traditional booby prize---Arthur Knapp's book, "Race Your Boat Right"---for the second year in a row, but he can dump it off on Radich or hometown favorite Scott Dickson by beating the latter in a match that leads off the last day of competition. Radich meets Gram-Hansen in the last race.
Dickson, who finished second in '98, was 0-3 Friday and complained about a problem with his boat.
"If you heard some rattling coming from the back of the boat, it was the loose nut behind the wheel."
The event is being broadcast live on local 810 AM radio each day. The broadcasts are fed simultaneously to Long Beach City College's Web site, klbc.org, which is available to anyone with access to the Internet. Spithill said his father and friends are listening in from Australia.
"I thought it was a good idea until he started ringing me up telling me what I was doing wrong,"