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on the other hand…

con cup

on the other hand…

A different view of the Congressional Cup from photographer Peter Howson…

This weekend saw the culmination of the 46th annual Congressional Cup, the only Class 1 open match racing event in the US (There is at least one women’s event – The Santa Maria Cup) at the Long Beach Yacht Club. The event attracted some of the top match racing talent in the world to race in a fleet of Catalina 37s that were donated by Catalina Yachts 20 years ago to the Long Beach Sailing Center. Racing takes place at the end of the Long Beach Pier affording a great view for the several hundred people who came out to take advantage of the racing. The prevailing winds coming off the water mean that the start box is usually set about 100 yards off the pier meaning that the most treacherous action takes place in close proximity to the spectator area. And when I say close proximity I mean that it’s a testament to the skill of the skippers that in 20 years nobody has driven a boat into the pier or knocked spectators off the grandstand during a tack. Leave your binoculars at home!

When I showed up Friday, the people at LBYC were exceptionally helpful and accommodating in spite of the fact that I was very up front that I am a contributor to SA. They even went so far as to put me on the head umpire’s boat so that I could get a different angle from the press boat. Watching the racing from the umpires boat was amazing not only from the point of view of getting ridiculously close to the action (first time in a long time I’ve needed to bust out the wide angle lens) but in terms of learning what goes on on the umpire’s boat during a match racing event. If you ever get the opportunity to spectate from this vantage point, do it! 

The first race we chased was Neugodnikov vs. Berntsson. From my perch on the bow of the umpire boat I watched as Berntsson came up behind the Russian and the two boats got so close you couldn’t have slipped a piece of paper between them but somehow managed not to touch. Each of the umpires takes a boat and they follow the action with a constant stream of judgments on what their boat is doing. So in the background I had this crazy running commentary of "I can’t go in there." "I need to give you room." "All clear, agreed?" After they did their laps, the Russians came out on top.

Next up was Neugodnikov vs. Iehl, or in terms of world rankings: #20 against #3. Personality wise, this was a study in contrasts: Iehl the fiery frenchman hopping up and down in the back of the boat, constantly shifting position at the helm vs. the young Russian who seemed a little startled to be there. Compared to the first match, the pre start here was a bit of a dawdle without the near collision of the first race. Iehl got off to an early lead that was pretty tight at the windward mark. As Iehl approached the mark he seemed to be leaving an opening for Neugodnikov to get between Iehl and the mark but as soon as Neugodnikov turned to go in, the Frenchman slammed the door and it was only by the narrowest of margins that the Russians avoided slamming into the back of the leading boat.

The last race for us was Brady vs. Iehl and this was the one I was really looking forward to (truth be told, I was hoping for Bruni v. Brady in flight 2 but that was another umpire boat’s gig). Brady, whose world match racing ranking has suffered form a lack of big regattas in his schedule dumping him in the hundreds somewhere and who only changed facial expression once the entire time I was in Long Beach; versus the restless Frenchman. Racing was close but the drama in this one didn’t come until the rounding of the leeward mark when Brady caught Iehl napping and came up a bit causing the Frenchman to have to scramble to avoid him. When Brady came back down and Iehl thought he was clear, Brady came up and caught him off guard again, this time drawing the penalty. Brady beat him by a fair margin but Iehl chose not to do his turn which meant he was scored as DNF.

When all the dust settled, Brady had won the round robin and chose Hardesty as his opponent in the semi finals with Bruni and Berntsson as the other match. Those who hadn’t made the semis were heading off on a round the harbor fleet race for $1000. The only notable change being that Sally Barkow had to jet off to Spain for the Princesa regatta so her main sheet trimmer (some chick named Genny Tulloch, ever heard of her?) took over as skipper, pictured right.

Saturday the umpires weren’t so jazzed about having some whack job photographer on their bow and I didn’t want to be stuck on the press boat with the other 4 photographers, so I got a ride on one of the usher boats which may have been a bad idea. While I was able to focus on the racing and I had a blast hanging out with the guy driving the boat, photographically it was not ideal to have to jet off every time some jackass in a powerboat decided to plow through the spectator boats onto the racecourse. when we got out to the race course the wind was blasting off the beach so strongly that there were clouds of sand and spray coming off the water’s edge out in to the harbor. With gusts to 25, I was pretty excited about the possibility for some heavy air sailing in some nice chop but before the racing started the wind moderated and by the time they were ready to start the second round of racing they had to totally reset the course because the wind made a 170º shift and returned to the more expected sea breeze at 7 knots

Brady handed Hardesty a 2-0 ticket to the race for third. Bruni practically needed new underwear after eking out a 2-1, and I mean eking – the last race was decided by 1 second, victory over Berntsson especially since this was a rematch of the finals from last year in which Berntsson had walked away with a 2-0 and the cup. So now it was Bruni v. Brady for the finals. In the first two races, the team that got the left won which left an even split for the final race. Naturally there was some serious jockeying for the left at the start which resulted in Francesco coming off the line on the left but with a penalty hanging over his head. Slowly but surely Bruni’s lead grew by inches even as the breeze dropped away to next to nothing. Bruni came to the finish line with about three boat lengths lead which was just enough for him to drop his spinnaker and use the bit of breeze that was left to pull off his turn with a little room to spare.

I think it’s safe to say that Monday’s comments on the event here (see Con Cup, below) were a bit off side even if the actual "suggestion" that the organizers throw up a web feed was a good one. From my perspective on the water, in addition to great sailing the event was well run, there actually was a small army of volunteers in evidence on the docks and on the water, the people running it were great, the beer was cold, the pizza was hot, etc. I think it’s safe to say that promotion of regattas, especially in this country, is not easy and nobody, with the possible exception of the VOR and whoever was running AC32 for Bertarelli, has gotten it totally right.

And the reward for getting it right at the Con Cup is displayed to the right as one of the Azzurra crew gets cooled off after their win

Perhaps, next year, someone who runs a sailing website that regularly webcasts sailing events might take a line from Gandhi and "…be the change you want to see in the world."

Peter Howson
Yachting Photographer