by Rich Roberts
The first thing followers and fellow competitors want to know about the Long Beach Yacht Club's 49th Congressional Cup: Is the Brit coming back?
Congressional Cup 2012
And the answer is, yes indeed. Ian Williams, still ranked number one in the world, will return April 9-13 with his GAR Pindar team in quest of an unprecedented third consecutive victory in the prestigious Grade 1 match racing event. The first two launched seasons leading to his third and fourth championships on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour (the Congressional Cup is not a part of the tour).
If Williams wins again, LBYC already knows the size for his Crimson Blazer, the winner's traditional prize that goes with the check for the largest share of the $60,000 purse.
'GAC Pindar are really looking forward to returning to the Long Beach Yacht Club to defend our Congressional Cup title,' Williams said. 'This year we are going for three in a row both in the Congressional Cup and the Alpari World Championships, neither of which has been achieved before. It will be extremely difficult to achieve with the standard of teams looking to topple us improving every year, but come April we will be well prepared and up for the fight!'
His rivals will include two former winners---the USA's Ed Baird (2004), currently unranked by the International Sailing Federation, and France's Mathieu Richard (2007), ranked 18th in the world---and five other skippers in ISAF's top 20: Laurie Jury, New Zealand, No. 7; Taylor Canfield, U.S. Virgin Islands, No. 8; Eric Monnin, Switzerland, No. 13; Simone Ferrarese, Italy, No. 15, and Jordan Reece, Australia, No. 16, plus Adam Minoprio, New Zealand, No. 217.
Baird, 54, is unranked because his recent match racing has been limited to America's Cups, and the rankings are calculated by accumulated scores of the best four results in each of the most recent two years. Although he drove Switzerland's Alinghi to victory at Valencia in 2007, the AC doesn't count in the world rankings, but Baird was recognized by ISAF as World Sailor of the Year.
Minoprio won the Alpari World Tour title in 2009 but has raced in only three events the last two years while sailing with the Emirates Team New Zealand Volvo Ocean Race and America's Cup campaigns.
The 10th Congressional Cup entry will be the winner of the Grade 2 Ficker Cup April 5-7, preceding the Congressional Cup. A favorite is Dustin Durant, ranked No. 31 after winning this month's Grade 2 Caribbean Nations Cup in Bridgetown, Barbados. But to reach the Congressional, Durant, 25, will have to beat out a field including his 2012 tactician, Scott Dickson, a multiple Ficker winner and frequent Congressional Cup competitor who will be back on his own boat this year.
The Ficker Cup follows the March 24-25 Butler Cup finale of the statewide California Dreamin' Series for match racing aspirants.
All three events will feature the Long Beach Sailing Foundation's sturdy Catalina 37s built for the match racing game, and all racing will be in front of the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, with accommodations for spectators. Admission is free.
It's a familiar place now for Williams, who placed a tough second to four-time winner Gavin Brady in his first Congressional in 2006.
Williams, at 35 the winner of four Match Racing World Tours, including the last two years, once recalled his early ventures in an interview with Kim Hampton of YachtPals.
'When I was sort of 'the Nipper,' the young guy, coming into the sport, it was great to be able to go up against people like Russell Coutts, Peter Gilmour, Ed Baird, and take them on in equal boats,' Williams said. 'This meant that, provided you and your team could find a way to sail better than them, you could beat them.
'This was a fantastic situation to be in and very rare in our sport where the established names normally have an equipment advantage, if you get to race them at all.
'In some ways it's a bit tougher when you are the world champion, and everybody is going for you. The young guys who come in on any given day can beat you. Reputation means nothing once you are on the race course . . . which means you just really, really need to keep on top of your game, keep sharp all the time.'
LBYC set the bar for world-class match racing in 1965 when it started the event and Rear Commodore Bill Dalessi persuaded Congressman Craig Hosmer and U.S. Senator Tom Kuchel to sponsor official legislation endorsing it as the Congressional Cup.
Some 20 years later, weary of late night protest hearings back at the club, then-LBYC Commodore Pete Ives, with input from influential sailing leaders Tom Ehman and Gary Jobson, introduced on-water umpiring that revolutionized the game worldwide for competitors and spectators as far up as the America's Cup.
The Congressional Cup has maintained a high level of organization with a unique volunteer force of some 300 club members and their families. Each crew is assigned boat hostesses and a housing team to deliver the outstanding local hospitality the Congressional Cup has offered now for 49 years.