Ficker Cup Final - Simone Ferrarese v Will Tiller.
Simone Ferrarese turned 23 this month and this weekend gave himself a birthday present that he'll share with his crew next week: racing in the Long Beach Yacht Club's 47th Congressional Cup.
That's their reward for beating back a tough bid by Australia's Will Tiller, 2-1, in the wind-bedeviled give-and-take final of the Ficker Cup, whose winner earns automatic entry into the world-class event that will be sailed on the same protected outer Long Beach Harbor waters on the same Catalina 37s.
A fleet of highly ranked match racers---France's Mathieu Richard, Great Britain's Ian Williams, Italy's Francesco Bruni (last year's winner), Russia's Evgeny Neugodnikov, New Zealand's Phil Robertson, Sweden's Johnie Berntsson and Finland's Staffan Lindberg---awaits them on a higher level of competition.
'I'm ready for next week,' Ferrarese said. 'I don't really worry about my team.'
Ferrarese has been match racing around the globe for only four years but has risen to 21st on ISAF's scale and is learning how to tune his game to the competition. He doesn't mind mixing it up when necessary, as he showed in beating the highly regarded Tiller in three of their four matches, including the round robin.
'Tiller is strong,' Ferrarese said. 'I had to be more aggressive.'
It showed. Penalty flags flew often in their matches.
Their other opponent was the unruly elements. When the racing started at 11:30 a.m. the wind was from not quite due west at 9 knots, but before the races for non-semifinalists were halfway through it was swinging to due south over the one-third nautical mile course.
From there the windward mark boat was whiplashed left and right, hustling to move weather marks for almost every lap of the two-lap races to keep them directly upwind. Early on there were whitecaps on the course in the port's outer harbor, but by day's end it was as flat as a fish pond and fading fast.
But that didn't diminish the intensity of the competition, particularly that involving Ferrarese and Tiller. To reach their finale, Ferrarese had to come from behind to dispatch California's Chris Nesbitt of Balboa YC, 2-1, as Bob Hughes---a Michigan veteran with an Australian crew---pushed Tiller to the same edge in their semifinal duels.
In fact, before getting past Hughes, Tiller had to switch boats because of a gear problem, but two pre-start penalties against Hughes turned the decider into a sail-around.
The finals were remarkable. Ferrarese won the start, but the lead changed four times on the first lap. Then, after they rounded the leeward mark, the Italian tacked in Tiller's face as he was passing the mark and the Aussie snagged its anchor line and stopped cold---penalty on Ferrarese, soon to be doubled for gaining an unfair advantage.
Ferrarese did one penalty turn, as required, and managed to hold the lead until the finish, when he did his other turn as the onrushing Tiller closed in under spinnaker, only to fall short by four feet.
Tiller then won a less eventful Race 2 by 33 seconds, but the tempo returned in the decider when Tiller drew a pre-start penalty, only to put one back on Ferrarese before the horn. But Ferrarese got off with a slight lead that he protected until winning by 30 seconds.
The spectator-friendly competition was run directly off Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier in east Long Beach, the same venue to be used for the Congressional Cup Tuesday through Saturday.