With a 5-0 start to the ISAF Grade 1, 39 Congressional Cup on Tuesday, Gavin Brady felt right at home, although sometimes it's hard to tell where that is.
A virtual unknown from New Zealand, he crashed the big leagues of match racing by winning the prestigious event as a lad of 22 in 1996, then repeated in '97 and soon after adopted Annapolis, Md. as the base for his professional sailing career, before establishing Italian residence so he could sail with Prada in the recent America's Cup campaign.
When the event joined the Swedish Match Tour last year, Brady was runner-up to Peter Holmberg with a mostly Italian crew that included his longtime sidekick, Sean Clarkson.
he said with a relaxed smile, "I'm back sailing with my old mates from New Zealand."
Those would be Clarkson, James Baxter, Jon Gunderson and Brad Webb, as well as a couple of new hands this week: American tactician Chris Larson and Theresa DiRocco of Annapolis, the only female sailing this week.
DiRocco's 106 pounds brought the team up the 1,200-pound crew limit, and Larson's presence refined the dynamics.
"This is the first time in a long time that we've sailed with a fulltime tactician,"
Brady said. "Chris made all the decisions on which way to go. All I did was drive the boat."
Larson said, "[Brady] trusts everybody, and it's a really good group. His four guys are really good."
Australia's James Spithill, 23, and Italy's Paolo Cian share second place at 4-1, with Sweden's Magnus Holmberg alone at 3-2 and the rest of the strong field locked up at 2-3 and 1-4 with 13 flights in the double round robin remaining before the semifinals and finals Saturday.
Tuesday's racing was delayed for an hour for lack of decent wind until a fresh, 12-knot southwesterly sea breeze arrived as suddenly as if someone had switched on the world's biggest fan.
"I haven't seen that before,"
said Scott Dickson, a New Zealander who has lived and sailed in Long Beach for several years.
The wind built briefly to 15, then faded slowly until the fleet completed the final round at about 6 p.m. Skies were clear and the temperature in the 70s.
Dickson, although 2-3 on the day, gave Brady his closest call. He led Brady throughout the race but owed a penalty turn, which he did by circling the pin flag at the finish line---although in doing so he incurred another penalty by coming around in Brady's path.
"We thought we went 3-2 by beating Gavin, but the umpires didn't see it that way,"
As for penalties, the competitors started quietly without a single flag thrown in the first flight.
"We thought everybody was asleep,"</>I chief umpire John Doerr (GBR) said.
"But then there were about 40 the rest of the day. It reflects that these guys are pretty close."
The protests included eight in the second-flight match between Holmberg and veteran Chris Law and his Outlaws. All were waved off by the umpires as Holmberg won by 15 seconds.
In other matches, Holmberg, Denmark's Jesper Radich and France's Luc Pillot saved wins by doing penalty turns at the finish line. In another bizarre match, Pillot disdained a spinnaker on the last downwind leg, hoping to attack Radich into a penalty to cancel his own, but the Dane would have none of it. Radich left his own chute in the bag and avoided Pillot's every move.
"I don't know how many gybes we did,"
Radich said, "30 or 40 probably."
With teams from eight countries, language skills also are being tested.
"We're getting used to speaking English again,"
said Gram-Hansen, who has locals Steve Flam and Kevin McCarthy on board as tactician and tailer, respectively.
Cian's 4-1 performance was more amazing. Not only is he sailing a Catalina 37 for the first time, but he has Chris Main and Switzerland's Peter Van Niekerk on the boat.
"Calling the signals in English is not too easy for me,"
The Congressional Cup again is being sailed on the Catalina 37 sloops built for the event. The format will be a double round robin followed by best-of-three semifinals and finals. A short windward-leeward race course is set adjacent to Belmont Pier, where spectators are welcome.