The 49th Congressional Cup gets underway on Tuesday, 9th March where some of the world's best match racing sailors from six countries and the U.S. Virgin Islands will be competing. Two round-robin rotations will be followed by sailoffs through Saturday. Competition will be at Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier on the Long Beach outer harbor starting at noon daily, conditions permitting.
Congressional Cup 2012 Wilson leads across the line in deciding match
Monday's conditions didn't even permit practice sailing. Uncommon northwest winds well above 20 knots---the limit for exposing the Catalina 37s to potential damage---kept all competitors ashore. Plans are for a limited practice period before racing starts Tuesday.
The field has Great Britain's Ian Williams, the world's top-ranked match racer, trying for his third consecutive win in the event against New Zealand's Laurie Jury, the U.S. Virgin Islands' Taylor Canfield, Switzerland's Eric Monnin, Italy's Simone Ferrarese, Australia's Jordan Reece, France's Mathieu Richard and New Zealand's Adam Minoprio.
So where are all the Americans?
Keep looking. At the bottom, according to ISAF's rankings, are Ed Baird of St. Petersburg, Fla. and Scott Dickson of Long Beach, but they didn't get in on their recent resumes. Dickson is ranked 465th and Baird isn't ranked at all these days---not because they lack the talent to compete at this Grade 1 match racing level but because they haven't played the game much lately.
Baird, 54, won the Congressional in 2004 and three years later during an America's Cup career drove Switzerland's Alinghi to victory. His tactician will be Terry Hutchinson, 44, a northern California native who won the Congressional in 1992 but also remembers Baird's 2004 victory only too well.
Congressional Cup day 2
That's when in the decisive match of their championship sailoff Hutchinson led by about a minute at the last windward mark but sailed into a windless hole downwind as Baird breezed past to victory.
'Yeah, well, that's racing,' Hutchinson says now, grimacing.
No hard feelings, though, Hutchinson was invited back this year, two days before he learned he was asked to team up with Baird in a Quantum Sails-sponsored TP52 campaign in Europe. Since Baird will be driving that boat, Hutchinson figured they should team up here.
'Since we're going to be sailing together this summer,' Baird said, 'Terry thought this would be a good place to start.'
Dickson, 42, also proving it's never too late, scored his entry---his 12th Congressional---by finishing second to Canfield in last weekend's Ficker Cup amid a strong Grade 2 field.
So Baird-Hutchinson and Dickson and, in a slight stretch of national definition, Canfield will carry American hopes. Canfield, director of the Chicago Match Racing Center and winner of three major events on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour last year, flies the flag of his homeland.
'While I am an American citizen and represent the U.S. as well,' he says, 'I feel that I have a great connection to the ISV and have chosen that over the U.S.'
So be it. All of the Americans have the same mission against the overwhelming presence of other nationals on the world scene, not only in the America's Cup but in match racing overall. In the Congressional's early years foreign entries were uncommon.
Baird said, 'Match racing has never been as big in the U.S. as some of us would like to see it, although more young sailors are taking up match racing with the development of the Chicago Match Race Center.'
Hutchinson said, 'It's all a cycle. The rest of the world has been catching up.'
Most notably, the America's Cup lacks a significant American presence. There is only one American---tactician John Kostecki---on billionaire Larry Ellison's American defender.
Congressional Cup day 3
'Whoever wins may return some semblance of nationality back into it,' Hutchinson said hopefully.
The Congressional Cup is not a part of the world tour, but older competitors are aware of its contributions to developing the game, such as on-water umpiring with penalty turns that did away with late-night protests at the end of too many days.
Baird recalled, 'In the late 80s when they went to on-water umpiring it was more enjoyable for everybody.'
The Congressional has a $60,000 purse, including $15,000 to the winner, along with the traditional Crimson Blazer.
The racing will be at Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier. Admission is free. Bleachers, comfort stations and a snack bar are available. Parking is at the base of the pier, with complimentary golf cart service available from the beach to the end of the pier.
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.
Congressional Cup website