Photos by Asia Morris.
Had you any idea that the longest continuous running and most prestigious match sailing race in North America is held right here in Long Beach, year after year? Did you know that you can view said race quite easily from the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier?
The 51st annual Congressional Cup, hosted by the Long Beach Yacht Club (LBYC), will feature the world's current number one ranked match race skipper and other world-class competitors. The race is this year’s season opener for the 16th annual World Match Racing Tour (WMRT).
Notably, the world's current number one ranked match race skipper Ian Williams (pictured above), representing the United Kingdom, and defending Congressional Cup and WMRT champion Taylor Canfield, representing the US Virgin Islands, are facing off against a pool of 12 of the best sailors in the world.
“Taylor took the world championship off us a couple years ago which we weren't too happy about, but we managed to get it back last year," Williams said of Canfield. "With Taylor as the defending champ of the Congressional Cup, we're keen to try and get it back, so we'll certainly be giving it a shot and expecting Taylor to give us a pretty good run.”
Canfield said the five-day match racing event will certainly be a battle, yet he’s looking forward to facing each race one at a time, as he and his team, US One, attempt to outsmart Williams' maneuvers and the tactics of other highly-ranked adversaries from around the world.
The skippers, from nine nations including Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden and Poland, will compete for the Congressional Cup championship and a chance at heading into the remaining five WMRT races with the most amount of points.
Congressional Cup Communications Co-chair Joe Murray said match racing was a “chess game on the water,” and explained that all competitors “have to be on their A game in physical ability and in mental skill.”
“The men in this sport are renaissance men, they have it all," she said. "They’re looking at strategy and they’re playing it several moves ahead."
Local talent Scott Dickson will be competing in his 17th Congressional Cup, representing the LBYC. He has been the skipper for the LBYC 15 times, and has won the Congressional Cup qualifier event, the Ficker Cup, 12 times. Dickson qualified this year by defeating five other teams in the LBYC Sail Off event. Dustin Durant, Congressional Cup Chairman Bill Durant’s son, qualified as a runner-up at this year’s Ficker Cup.
Returning skippers include Eric Monnin of Switzerland (ranked number 4), Joachim Aschenbrenner of Denmark (number 9), Keith Swinton of Australia (number 10), Phil Robertson of New Zealand (number 13), Przemeyslaw ‘Tara’ Tarnaki of Poland (number 26), Dustin Durant of the U.S. (number 84) and Scott Dickson, LBYC (number 167). Making their Congressional Cup debuts are skipper Bjorn Hansen of Sweden (number 5) and Chris Steele (number 11) and Reuben Corbett (number 12) of New Zealand. All will vie for the coveted Crimson Blazer, an honor and tradition bestowed upon the top sailors over the decades.
LBYC Vice Commodore David Hood described the complicated dance of technicalities and the strategic, split-second decision-making that goes on during a match race, where teams must sail identically-equipped boats and the entire five-to-seven-person crew must not exceed a weight of 1,156 pounds.
“So they're looking up the race course, they're saying, ‘Little breeze on the right, little better breeze on the left, we want to make sure we get off to the right, get off to the left,’ and on the same hand they're looking for opportunities where they can put a penalty on their opponent, but they're really looking for positioning," Hood said.
Precise timing, aggressive maneuvering and a keen sense for the weather and one's opponent’s position make for a thrilling event known to escalate as the week progresses. And while it’s a penalty for the the two teams’ boats to touch, sometimes a measurement less than a matter of inches can determine if a risk one has made was worth the effort.
Canfield said this was especially true in last year's Congressional Cup.
“We definitely had a great battle with Williams in particular in the finals last year and I think there were two small collisions and one was his fault and one was our fault," said Canfield. "I think the big thing for me is just trying to sail as clean as possible and not cause any collisions.”
“In that first race of the event there's a little bit of adrenaline and the heart rate goes up a little bit,” he said. "But once we're in it it's almost routine for our team. I rely on my guys and I trust them and I know we have what we takes if we sail well, granted I keep us out of trouble, we'll have a good chance at it I think.”
The LBYC introduced the Congressional Cup, a Grade WC Event (the highest level of sailboat racing), in 1965. The races can be be watched from the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier starting Wednesday, May 13 and ending Sunday, May 17. Races begin at approximately 11:30AM daily. Live commentary, food and beverage vendors and complimentary seating will make for an exciting event for all attendees.