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Race Crews Ready for Rolex China Sea Race Start

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

More than a few boats took to Victoria Harbour today to practice in advance of Thursday’s start of the 25th edition of the Rolex China Sea Race. Winds permitting, the 30-boat fleet will start at 1210 off the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, with the cityfront providing a dramatic backdrop and tactically challenging conditions, with the seagoing traffic providing obstacles to avoid.

At tonight’s Skipper’s Briefing, RHKYC Race Manager Alex Johnston gave last minute instructions to the crews on race course, safety and weather. Daniel Yeung from the Hong Kong Observatory reviewed the forecast for the race area over the next several days. The general forecast for tomorrow’s race start calls for southeasterly winds, 7 – 10 knots. The monsoon that is currently dominating the South China Sea is going to moderate, which will create a ridge of high pressure, though it is possible that there will be significant breeze well east of the rhumbline.

The fleet is divided into five divisions including IRC A, B, C, IRC Premier Cruising, and IRC Cruising. Last year’s overall winner, Ernesto Echauz’ Subic Centennial (PHI) and Line Honours winner Neil Pryde on Hi Fi (HKG) are both back to defend their titles. Hi Fi, with Will Oxley on as navigator, is sporting a new bulb, mast and modified cabin top.

There are quite a few boats with an eye on the prize this year including three TP52s, Ray Roberts’ Evolution Racing (AUS), Sam Chan’s Ffreefire 52 (HKG) and Geoff Hill’s Strewth (AUS), as well as two of the highly-regarded French-built Archambault sport boats, Avant Garde (HKG), an A40RC, and American Anthony Root’s Red Kite II (HKG), an A35.

Strewth is back after a dramatic retirement in the 2008 race, when both keel bolts sheered off and the keel and bulb dropped away, 150 miles from the start. Displaying impressive sailing skills, the skipper and crew kept the boat upright, turned around, and motored safely back to Hong Kong, escorted by Olivier Decamps’ on Cloud.

Hill recalled, “We were really, really lucky. We had a good helmsman on the boat, who naturally steered the boat up into the breeze, basically depowering the boat. We put a guy over the side and did all the safety stuff. We learned a few things out of that, as a few weeks before I had done my Sea Safety and Survival course and so we did all the proper sea safety stuff and it was relatively automatic. That, I think, contributed to the fact we didn’t have any loss of life, and the boat didn’t sink. We filled the water tanks and centre lined everything (to help stabilize the boat)…I figure I’ve lost eight of my nine sailing lives.”

Since then, Strewth has had a few modifications including an escape hatch in the stern, and installation of a new, similar keel though with 12 bolts (instead of two). Hill said it took 12 months to get the boat back in shape, and since then they have competed in several races on the Asian circuit. Hill says it’s been a learning curve getting the boat back up to speed, though he has hardly been idle, also competing on his MKL49 in this past Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. For this race he’s brought on Australian Lindsay May as tactician (winning skipper of 2006 Rolex Sydney Hobart Race on Love & War), as well as a strong group of Australian sailors.

While Strewth is the scratch boat in the fleet, the biggest boat is Ffreefire, the 71-foot sled (ex-Pyewacket), skippered by sailing legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. In the late 1960’s, Knox-Johnston became the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world, aboard the 32-foot yacht Suhaili, after 312 days at sea. The 72-year old Knox-Johnston has received numerous awards over a long and illustrious career, including ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year in 1994 and inauguration into the ISAF Hall of Fame in 2008.

Knox-Johnston’s reason for coming to Hong Kong to compete in the Rolex China Sea was pretty simple: “A friend chartered the boat and asked if I’d like to join him, and I thought, ‘I could do with a break’. It’s irresistible, it’s a nice race to do. There is a lot of luck (in the race) and the previous two times I’ve done it we’ve had quite good boats, but not won, because you just go into holes. The skill is trying to avoid the holes.” As a former around-the-world solo sailor it’s interesting to hear him say, “I’m doing it because I enjoy good company, I enjoy a good race, and this gives me both. I like sprints, I like these short races.”

Knox-Johnston has a keen interest in youth sailing and he reflected on the growth of the sport in China, “What we’re seeing in Asia are small pockets of enthusiastic sailors. What needs to happen for sailing to grow, as it has in the West, is from the bottom up. You almost have to put sailing in the school curriculum and let the youngsters get the pleasure that we get. Once that starts to happen you’ll build up a cadre of good young sailors and those ones will start to lead the others into it.”

Ffreefire 70 has only two results from the China Sea Race, a Line Honours win in 1998 and 1st in IRC in 2004. The boat has a better record in the San Fernando Race, winning Line Honours, Overall Handicap, and set a course record in 1997, and then went on to repeat this treble in 2001, breaking her own record; in the 2005 SFR, Ffreefire 70 claimed Line Honours and Overall Handicap, once again.

Knox-Johnston said, “She is not a young lady any longer and there are newer, larger and faster boats in the fleet, and others who have a better handicap. But the boat has raced across the China Sea eight times and won four of those races!”

Geoff Hill was quick to praise the assistance he had from Roger Eastham, Marine Services Manager for the RHKYC, who was the point person for the recovery effort of Strewth in the 2008 edition of the race. Roger is the man to know if you have a boat in Hong Kong, having been in the marine industry for 30 years.

The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is unique in that in incorporates on its’ grounds a full-service boat yard, the only one within the confines of Victoria Harbour. However, it wasn’t always this good. Prior to 1997, the Yacht Clubs’ facilities were really quite small, and all of the service work was sub-contracted out. When the cross-harbour tunnel was built, the area adjacent to the club was part of the reclamation project. The membership Recognizing an opportunity to expand the yard services, the membership had a travel hoist built, more yard-based work was taken on, and the yard grew organically over time as the Yacht Club assumed management themselves.

The yard provides hard standing for the club’s one-design fleets: Flying Fifteen’s, Etchells, Impalas, Dragons and averages 100 class boats on the hard. The boat yard area is for haul-out, repair and maintenance, and depending on the size of yachts can manage 14 – 18 boats hauled out at any one time. There’s full services including a rigging shop, fiberglass, carpentry, engineering, TIG/MIG welding, and painting. Though a few services are sub-contracted (ie, electronics, stainless steel fabrication, canvas work), the yard is pretty much a one-stop shop for yachtsmen.

Pole Star and SkyWave have joined forces to provide a web-based tracking facility for the event. Shore-based fans can follow the racing online at http://www.rhkyc.org.hk/chinasearace/tracking.htm.

The China Sea Race was first run in 1962, and it has been held every two years since then. In 1972, it was officially recognised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and is now run under their prescriptions. Since then the race has continued to attract increased interest and serves to draw the international yachting fraternity to Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

The Rolex China Sea Race joins other prestigious Rolex sponsored events including the Rolex Farr 40 World Championship, Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Rolex Swan Cup, Rolex Middle Sea Race and the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

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Bruni beats Brady and Berntsson for the Blazer

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Francesco Bruni and his team Azzurra crew squeezed the last bit of breath out of the 46th Congressional Cup Saturday to outsail Gavin Brady, 2-1, and deny the four-time winner an unprecedented fifth Crimson Blazer in the only Grade 1 Open match racing regatta in the United States.

Instead, it was the affable Italian who donned the traditional prize after reveling in a champagne shower and a proper dunking at the dock that blew off the tension of a hard-earned victory.

“We were very scared, especially after the score was one to one,” Bruni said, fearing that Mother Nature would rule the day beyond all of his sailing skill.

Unusually capricious conditions for the venue bedeviled the four semifinalists with a simmering offshore Santa Ana desert breeze arriving at 18 knots from the east. Later, after one round of racing parallel to the sand-blown beach, the wind switched to 150 degrees onshore from the southwest but dropped to 7 knots.

Azzurra, an Italian team with America’s Cup ambitions, hung tough, although pushed to the limit of three races by defending champion Johnie Berntsson in the semis and by Brady in the final.

Bruni will share his $10,000 prize with his crew of Tom Burnham, tactician; Ben Durham, main sail trimmer; Pierluigi De Felice., trimmer; Pietro Mantovani, pit and trimmer, and Matteo Auguadro, bow.

“We worked hard to win it,” said Bruni, who lost 2-0 to Berntsson in last year’s title match. “We weren’t very focused … and this year we were this close to losing. We’re really happy.”

The title turned on another reversal of the Long Beach norm: the left side of the course was favored. Before each of their three starts Bruni and Brady fought hard for that privilege in last-minute luff-ups below the line, and the boat that started to leeward with a direct shot at the pin end of the line won every race: Bruni by six seconds, Brady by 2 minutes 22 seconds and Bruni again by 1:29.

In the first final match Brady, who had eliminated Bill Hardesty 2-0 in the semis, even forced a foul on Bruni, but the latter built enough of a lead by going left to drop his spinnaker and do a penalty turn around the pin at the finish.

“It was all about winning the left,” Bruni said.

Eric Monnin of Switzerland won the fleet race around the harbor the competitors who failed to reach the finals.

The Congressional Cup has maintained a high level of organization over the years with a 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 45 years.

Spinnaker sponsors were F&M Bank, the Press-Telegram and Oceanaut Watches. Sails sponsors are MCA Logistics, Gladstone’s Restaurant, Newmeyer & Dillion and Union Bank. Hospitality sponsors are The Port of Long Beach, St. Mary Medical Center, City National Bank, The Breakers of Long Beach and Mount Gay Rum. An Honorary sponsor was Catalina Yachts.

Final results

ROUND ROBIN STANDINGS

1. Gavin Brady, New Zealand, 15-2.
2. Francesco Bruni, Italy, 14-3.
3. Johnie Berntsson, Sweden, 14-3.
4. Bill Hardesty, USA, 11-7.
5. Dave Perry, USA, 10-8, $3,500.
6. Evgeniy Neugodnikov, Russia, 9-9, $3,100.
7. Eric Monnin, Switzerland, 7-11, $2,700.
8. Damien Iehl, France, 7-11, $2,300.
9. Sally Barkow, USA, 2-16, $1,900.
10. Simone Ferrarese, Italy, 1-17, $1,500.

SEMIFINALS

Bruni def. Berntsson, 34 seconds.

Berntsson d. Bruni, 0:51.

Bruni d. Berntsson, 0:01.

(Bruni wins series, 2-1).

Brady d. Hardesty, 0:09.

Brady d. Hardesty, 1:23.

(Brady wins series, 2-0).

FINAL

Bruni d. Brady, 0:06.

Brady d. Bruni, 2:22.

Bruni d. Brady, 1:29.

(Bruni, $10,000, d. Brady, $6,000, 2-1)

PETIT FINAL

Berntsson d. Hardesty, 0:20.

Berntsson d. Hardesty, 0:09.
(Berntsson, $5,000, d. Hardesty, $4,500, 2-0).

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‘Fantastica’ Deemed The Law In Force For The Melges 32

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Lerici, 28 March 2010 – Lanfranco Cirillo on Fantastica has victoriously won the first event of the 2010 Audi Melges 32 Sailing Series, which ended today with only one race in Lerici, Italy.

Fantastica, in three days did nothing wrong and are now considered the law in force within the Melges 32 fleet championed by none other than owner Cirillo. Tactician Michele Paoletti, over the course of seven races placed the boat in front of the fleet, but what was most impressive was the cool, calm and collected determination and ability to always put them in the upmost favor of the finish line. Fantastica also seems to have a distinct advantage with the two-year long-term assistance of professionals Dede De Luca and Stefano Rizzi. They appear to be bigger weapons in the line-up of Cirillo’s crew and the object of desire for their opponents.

Up against the overwhelming power of Fantastica, Mauro Mocchegiani’s Rush Diletta with new tactician Matteo Ivaldi proved to be solid and consistent finding themselves on the podium in second overall, 13 points behind Cirillo.

Finishing third overall is defending 2009 Audi Sailing Series Champion Carlo Alberini on Calvi Network, just ahead of Filippo Pacinotti’s Brontolo in fourth. Pacinotti was left smiling in the last race of the day. The light breezes provided the trickiest of conditions, however the Cassinari brothers navigated with confidence while the team awaits the return of Freddy Loof from training.

In fifth overall was Luca Lalli on B Lin Sailing.com with Lorenzo Bressani proving to be the best rookie tactician within the fleet. After a great first day, a 2-3-3 Lalli steadily fell off the pace finishing twelwth in the final race of the event. Although falling from second to fifth is less than Lalli’s expectation, it proves they have what it takes to be a major player in the 2010 Melges 32 Sailing Series.

Lerici has marked a great start for the Melges 32. All eyes now turn to April 17, where the first event will commence for the Audi Melges 20, guaranteed to be as spectacular as this one.

Top Five Results
1.) Lanfranco Cirillo/Michele Paoletti, Fantastica; 1-1-5-1-1-(6)-2 = 11
2.) Mauro Mocchegiani/Matteo Ivaldi, Rush Diletta; 3-4-9-3-(7)-2-5 = 24
3.) Carlo Alberini/Gabriele Benussi, Calvi Network; 4-2-1-7-4-(11)-10 = 28
4.) Filippo Pacinotti/Daniele Cassinari, Brontolo; (11)-5-6-9-2-5-1 = 28
5.) Luca Lalli/Lorenzo Bressani, B Lin Sailing.com; 2-3-3-(12)-5-4-12 = 30

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Bruni sweeps into semis with Berntsson, Brady

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Francesco Bruni’s sailing world turned in the 46th Congressional Cup Thursday when the Azzurra team skipper from Italy swept five races to join defending champion Johnie Berntsson and four-time winner Gavin Brady in Saturday’s semifinals, as Bill Hardesty of San Diego slipped into position to claim the fourth slot.

In the steadiest breeze of the week—8 to 12 knots from the southwest—the springboard for Bruni was a morning hearing that cost Berntsson his bid to keep Wednesday’s apparent win over the Italian in the runaway mark incident.

Instead of sinking to 6-5, Bruni then beat Berntsson in the re-sail by a comfortable 27 seconds after Berntsson’s sluggish start, then dispatched, in order, Switzerland’s Eric Monnin, Wisconsin’s Sally Barkow, Italy’s Simone Ferrarese and Hardesty to sit at 11-4, two points behind Berntsson and Brady, now tied at 13-2.

Brady beat Iehl by 15 seconds in the other re-sailed match.

None of that ruined Hardesty’s 2-2 day but likely just delayed his clinching the last semifinal slot. At 9-6, the first-time Congressional Cup skipper needs only to win two of the last three matches of the double round robin against non-contenders Friday, even if fifth-place Dave Perry (8-7) sweeps his remaining slate. Hardesty owns the tiebreaker with his win over Perry in their second match.

Following his 5-1 record a day earlier, Hardesty opened Thursday by dealing Brady only his second loss of the week. Later he overtook France’s Damien Iehl in a flag-waving, come-from-behind frenzy that got Iehl disqualified when he failed to do any penalty turns after two quick side-by-side fouls downwind.

The on-water umpires, showing little patience, flew first one, then two blue flags—Iehl’s ID color—then a black one in the array.

Despite slipping to fourth place behind Bruni on the day, Hardesty was happy with that. “We just wanted to be in the top four,” he said.

Berntsson, the week-long leader, pushed Brady hard but carried a pre-start penalty into a decisive skirmish at the windward mark. Brady broke off their luffing match and brushed the mark as he fell off to round it. That offset Berntsson’s foul, but the latter remained stalled for several seconds until Brady was gone.

But Bruni, runnerup to Berntsson last year, may now be the one to watch.

Bruni said the re-sailed win against Berntsson “was a good start of the day. But we don’t want to relax.”

Racing will continue through Saturday, starting at 11:30 each day, conditions permitting. Each boat will race every other boat twice in a double round robin. The top four will advance to best-of-three semifinals and finals Saturday. The non-qualifiers will run a fleet race.

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Charleston Race Week Attendance Records Shattered Again

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

2010 Charleston Race Week is just around the corner, and the South Carolina Maritime Foundation (SCMF) and Charleston Ocean Racing Association (CORA) are proud to announce that they’ve already broken another attendance record with two weeks still to go before the first race. “We’re once again very grateful to see so much support for Race Week and for our city,” said SCMF CEO Will Haynie. “Registration is almost over and soon we get to the fun part – seeing 1,500 sailors enjoying our beautiful waterways and Charleston’s legendary hospitality.”

With 180 entries on the scratch sheet as of Wednesday, the South’s largest regatta is again raising the bar, with a second consecutive year and the fourth out of five with a record entry list. Haynie attributes the event’s success in the face of tough economic times to various factors. “Charleston Race Week has been the beneficiary of people needing to make hard choices with their time and money these days,” Haynie said. “This event has proved to be a great value, with the three things that sailors crave most: Good weather, reliable wind, and great parties.”

After crewing for two years on other Melges 24s, making the decision to bring their own boat was easy this year for August and Zac Hernandez, the owners of High Voltage. “A lot of the good Melges 24 sailors from the US are part of [CRW]. After getting to know the other 24 guys and finding out what races they signed up for, making the decision for Charleston this year was pretty easy,” stated Zac.

Race Locally, Race Globally

Race Week’s origin as a regional PHRF regatta hasn’t been lost with the event’s growth, and alongside Southeast-based PHRF and one-design teams is a large contingent of teams from around the country and around the globe The well-traveled Southern Cross 52 Vincitore never seems to stop in one place for long, with a crew that includes many New Zealanders and a home port in Switzerland Germany’s Christof Wieland will be racing in the Melges 24 class for the second straight year, and Canada is well represented with Viper 640 String Theory and longtime CRW competitor Slapshot in the Tripp 26. This is the first start anywhere in more than two years for the Tripp 26 class. International boats are no new factor to CRW, however; last year’s event showed an equally strong international presence with boats from France, Ireland, Germany, and the UK.

Closer to home, boats from 19 states will face off in Charleston. The Texans are hoofing it across the South Coast with nine J/Boats and Vipers, and the Midwest, Northeast, and West Coast are all well represented in the hot ‘sportboat’ fleets, which make up more than half of all entries.

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US ENTRY FOR VELUX 5 OCEANS RACE BEGINS REFIT IN CHARLESTON

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Some say reaching the start of the VELUX 5 OCEANS race is the greatest challenge in the race, and it’s a challenge that Mt. Pleasant resident Brad Van Liew is no stranger to. Van Liew has competed in the event twice, in 1998/99 and 2002/03, with a convincing 1st place victory in Class II aboard Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America in 2003. The lifelong sailor’s spirit and determination have seen him through the grand challenges of the race on land as well as at sea. His current mission: To bring a competitive US-based campaign to the VELUX 5 OCEANS 2010-11 race, with a boat that qualifies for the innovative and environmentally conscious “ECO 60″ Class. Van Liew acquired his favored race boat in France earlier this year, and helped bring it across the Atlantic arriving in Charleston in February. The team aims to prepare the boat for the October 2010 start of the race, and the work began today in earnest with the boat’s hauling from the water and storage in a secure workshop in North Charleston.

“It is great to have a true racing machine in hand,” said Van Liew. “Now, it’s time to personalize it exactly how I need, so I can best represent the United States in the world’s original solo race around the globe.”

While the race is billed as a solo event, it requires much more than one individual’s drive and talent. Van Liew is supported by a small shore-based team who has extensive experience in every aspect of the intricate and extreme sport of solo ocean racing. Additionally, the greater Charleston community has stepped up to offer their support to make Van Liew’s mission a reality. Charleston Rigging, Pierside Boatworks, Seabreeze Marina, and Urban Electric have all pledged support to the project, while the sailing industry has also showed its enthusiasm for a strong American solo effort, with support from well known brands such as Harken, Spinlock and AlpineAire. Additional sponsors contributing to the refit will be announced soon and more information about supporting Brad’s campaign is available at www.oceanracing.org/support.

An enormous shipbuilding crane hauled Brad’s ECO 60 out of the water at Detyens Shipyard in North Charleston, where hardworking Charleston shipbuilders and technicians supervised the gentle placement of the racing yacht in a custom-built cradle nearby. Van Liew and his shore team will conduct their comprehensive refit over the next three months in a building on the old Charleston Navy Base. One area of their work has attracted a surprising amount of interest among the public – new electrical generation systems that will allow Van Liew to race around the world without the use of fossil fuels at all. This would be a world’s first in the modern era of racing, where optimal performance depends on sophisticated – and power-hungry – electronics for navigation, safety, communication, and lighting. The system includes thin, flexible, high-efficiency solar panels on deck, along with prototypes of a new hydrogenerator system that produces power via small propellers that run just below the surface of the water. Such a system has been avoided by racers for competitive reasons, but the new prototypes generate large amounts of energy with nearly no effect on the speed of the boat.

“One of the things that is so special about sailing is that we get to turn the motors off, and I think it’s time that we prove that we can really do it,” said Van Liew. “With all the effort that’s going into creating renewable energy options around the world, I think that our solutions will finally show how one person can make a difference in a small way.” Van Liew thinks the technology he will use, once proven, will likely transfer to the tens of thousands of racing and cruising boats that currently rely on diesel and gasoline engines and generators for the majority of their power. “When you add it all up, sailors use a surprising amount of fuel, but if our power systems perform as well as they have so far, we can help to change that.”

The complete refit will include extensive work disassembling the rig, rudders, keel and daggerboards, while the entire deck layout and sail handling systems will be modified to suit Van Liew’s personal sailing style and the intricacies of sailing a 60-foot boat competitively alone. The electronics package is one of the most important performance tools on a modern racing yacht, and Van Liew will replace the entire system currently aboard the boat. His new system of radar, chart plotters, autopilots, and communications gear will be from B&G, with the latest high-performance chipsets and software.

The race boat sports a carbon/Nomex hull, twin daggerboards and rudders, a canting keel, more than 5,000 square feet of sail on a huge 95-foot mast, and ultra-light overall weight of just 8.5 tons.

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Berntsson, Brady a race short but 1-2 in Con Cup

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

A jolt of intensity, a runaway mark and some unsettled business in the jury room left the 46th Congressional Cup in overnight anxiety after competition lurched through Day 2 Wednesday.

Johnie Berntsson, the defending champion from Sweden, remained unbeaten at 10-0 even though 11 of the 18 round-robin flights had been sailed. Whether he and Italy’s Francesco Bruni will have to resail Wednesday’s match, which Berntsson thinks he won legitimately, was to be determined at a special hearing before Thursday’s racing.

Four-time winner Gavin Brady, in second place at 9-1, will have to resail his match against France’s Damien Iehl, which he didn’t finish.

The problem developed when, in brisk breeze building from 3 to 12 knots through the afternoon, broke the windward mark loose from its ground tackle in the ninth flight of racing. The yellow inflatable drifted downwind as the two matches approached, led by Berntsson over Bruni. The mark was chased down by the attending mark boat, which quickly pulled it onboard and held its position to serve as the new mark—an acceptable practice in such situations.

Berntsson and Bruni then rounded the mark boat, but Brady and Iehl were waved off the course by an on-water umpire signaling with a hand across his throat that their race was over because of the displaced mark.

A hearing Wednesday night ruled that they would try again Thursday before the scheduled races commence, but Berntsson and Bruni remained unsettled, even though Berntsson finished the race.

After returning to the dock, Berntsson said of the incident, “It didn’t affect the result. Bruni [already] had a penalty and we had a good lead.”

Bruni, asked at the evening’s press conference, if he’d like a resail, said, “Of course, I’d be happy.”

Otherwise, he’ll stand with 6 wins and 5 losses starting the day, with Berntsson at 11-0. Brady is currently 9-1 and Iehl 5-5.

Amid all the uproar, Bill Hardesty, a Con Cup rookie skipper from San Diego, quietly climbed into third place Wednesday by winning five of his six races, including a battle with Evgeniy Neugodnikov marked by a couple of collisions that cost the Russian disqualifying penalties.

“We’re feeling more confident,” Hardesty said, “and I’m feeling better about driving with a wheel.”

Other smaller boats he races successfully, such as winning Etchells world championship in 2008 and the Rolex U.S. Prince of Wales Bowl match racing title in 2009, are steered with tillers, not wheels.

Sally Barkow, the event’s first woman skipper since 1999, seized her first win, beating still winless Simone Ferrarese of Italy, but she also fought to some close finishes, including a one-second loss to Dave Perry.

Racing will continue through Saturday, starting at 11:30 each day, conditions permitting. Each boat will race every other boat twice in a double round robin. The top four will advance to best-of-three semifinals and finals Saturday. The non-qualifiers will run a fleet race.

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Berntsson, Brady, Bruni, Barkow battle in Con Cup

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

A fifth Crimson Blazer: that’s Gavin Brady’s goal in the 46th Congressional Cup running Tuesday through Saturday as the only Grade 1 Open match racing event in the United States.

Johnie Berntsson, 37, from Sweden, is happy with the one he won last year. For now.

Francesco Bruni was ready for a fitting last year, and Sally Barkow is looking for one with a feminine flair.

The traditional prize, unique in sailing, also has been won four times by Rod Davis and Peter Holmberg, who aren’t competing, while Brady is on a roll. Although an infrequent competitor on the world match racing circuit recently, he was skipper of Italy’s Mascalzone Latino team that was runnerup to Emirates Team New Zealand in the prestigious Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta concluding in New Zealand last weekend.

Brady was an unknown 21 when he won his first Congressional Cup in 1996.

“The first one was a huge thing,” he said. “I never even thought about winning any more.”

Francisco Bruni, a finalist against Berntsson here last year, a semifinalist in the Louis Vuitton and winner of an earlier LVT in France, also is here with the core of his Azzurra crew.

The 10 skippers, alphabetically, with current International Sailing Federation (ISAF) rankings:

Sally Barkow, Nashotah, Wis. (99), Pine Lake YC

Johnie Berntsson (9), Sweden, Royal Gothenburg YC

Gavin Brady (no ranking), New Zealand, Royal Hong Kong YC

Francesco Bruni (24), Italy, Yacht Club Costa Smeralda

Simone Ferrarese (32), Italy, Yacht Club Cortina

Bill Hardesty (no ranking), San Diego, Chicago Match Race Center

Damien Iehl, (3) France, APCC Voile Sportive

Eric Monnin (31), Switzerland, Yacht Club Immensee

Evgeniy Neugodnikov (20), Russia, Team Synergy

Dave Perry (45), Southport, Conn., Long Beach YC

They’ll all be racing in the Long Beach outer harbor off Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, where spectators will enjoy grandstand seating and free parking at the beach.

Racing will start at noon each day, conditions permitting. Each boat will race every other boat twice in a double round robin. The top four will advance to best-of-three semifinals and finals Saturday. The non-qualifiers will run a fleet race.

Perry won the Crimson Blazer in 1983 and ’84 and after a quarter-century hiatus has been rebuilding his match racing resume. At the time he won his blazers they were an American monopoly. Now the event has gone so international that the last five have been taken home abroad.

But few have had to work as hard as Berntsson to win it. After starting 4-7 in the double round robin, Berntsson had to win 6 of the last 7 races to reach the semifinals—on a tiebreaker. Then he had to beat France’s Mathieu Richard twice in the best-of-three semifinals. His first clinching win was tossed because he caused damage in a collision in that race, so he did it again in a second sailoff to advance to the finals, where he swept Bruni, 2-0.
For Brady and Bruni, this time around has taken on the added dimension of a possible 2013 America’s Cup campaign.

“It fits into our program,” Bruni said. “It keeps the program running.”

Brady, who plans to move back to his native New Zealand later this year after living in Annapolis, Md. for several years, said, “Everything’s forming quite fast with the America’s Cup. But the America’s Cup comes and goes. This event comes every year.”

Berntsson said, “Winning at Long Beach [in 2009] was the start of a great year for us. We won five events and crowned it with the European championship. Of course, the conditions were perfect, but especially being second the last two years the result was fantastic.

“We had to struggle to end up on top, but we made it with really good teamwork and a good fighting spirit onboard.

“This year’s crews are very strong. If you look at it from a ranking view it might seem lower than usual, but if you look behind the figures there are some really experienced teams that have been, and are, in the top level of match racing, and some new upcoming teams that are really good but haven’t yet collected the ranking points that they are probably going to earn soon.”

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Long Beach to Cabo San Lucas International Race: Big-boats Return In Fall

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

An opportunity to race in a major inshore buoy regatta followed by an offshore race to Cabo San Lucas 12 days later is being offered by Long Beach Yacht Club this fall.

The second annual Campbell Cup is scheduled the weekend of Oct. 23-24, then LBYC will start its race to Cabo San Lucas, Nov. 5.

With the races separated by only one weekend, the plan is to offer local moorings to boats entered in both events. This would allow time to re-configure their boats from buoy racing to offshore racing, provision the boat and then race to Cabo San Lucas.

Peter Tong, who broke the elapsed time record in the 2008 Cabo race on his Santa Cruz 70, OEX, plans to be in both events. OEX sailed the 804-nautical mile course in 2 days 22 hours 50 minutes 9 seconds to eclipse the 23-year old record set by another SC70, Blondie, by nearly 5 hours.

“I think we’ve been looking for a venue in the fall for quite some time,” Tong said. “With the Campbell Cup and then the offshore Cabo race, Long Beach Yacht Club now has a stake in it. I think a lot of sled owners will participate in both. I know I’m looking forward to it.

“In the last race it really blew. It was perfect with the right amount of wind and the right amount of speed. You never know how much is too much until you’re out there.

“I think it’s terrific having both races close together with time in between to get the boat ready for the offshore race.”

Ed McDowell’s SC70, Grand Illusion,Text Box: Ed McDowell’s SC70, Grand Illusion, took first-place overall in 2008 Cabo race with skipper Patrick O’Brien at the helm. skippered by Patrick O’Brien, finished about an hour behind OEX in the 2008 race and took first-place honors on overall corrected handicap time.

“We’re definitely going to Campbell Cup,” O’Brien said, “and having the Cabo race about 10 days later will keep the interest up. November is usually a quiet time of year for us, so it should be fun.

“In 2008 the weather was quite lively. The wind came up and it was a fun race. All of the boats finished within an hour or so of each other and we ended up having a great dock party.”

Entered classes will be scored on PHRF, IRC and ORR ratings and separated into two divisions. Division I will start on Friday, Nov. 5, and Division II will start on Saturday, Nov. 6.

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After 20 Years, Catalina 37s Are Still World Class

Friday, March 19th, 2010

The 46th Congressional Cup scheduled next Tuesday through Saturday will be sailed on Catalina 37s, but that’s nothing new.

They’ve been sailed in the United States’ only Grade 1 Open match racing event for 20 years, and that doesn’t seem about to change.

The 10 skippers who will sail next week, with current International Sailing Federation (ISAF) rankings:

Sally Barkow, Nashotah, Wis. (99), Pine Lake YC

Johnie Berntsson (9), Sweden, Royal Gothenburg YC

Gavin Brady, New Zealand, Royal Hong Kong YC

Francesco Bruni (24), Italy, Yacht Club Costa Smeralda

Simone Ferrarese (32), Italy, Yacht Club Cortina

Bill Hardesty, San Diego, Chicago Match Race Center

Damien Iehl, (3) France, APCC Voile Sportive

Eric Monnin (31), Switzerland, Yacht Club Immensee

Evgeniy Neugodnikov (20), Russia , Team Synergy

Dave Perry (45), Southport, Conn., Long Beach YC

If anything, the Catalina 37s have grown in popularity since Catalina Yachts President Frank Butler and chief engineer Gerry Douglas brought 11 of them, including a spare, to the Congressional Cup organizing Long Beach Yacht Club, which later placed them under the administration of the Long Beach Sailing Foundation for charter. Now they’re used in various fleet racing regattas, including Long Beach Race Week and last weekend’s intercollegiate Harbor Cup at San Pedro.

They are the only 11 ever built and they weren’t built for speed or comfort as much as for maneuverability and to last, like your father’s good old pickup truck. They aren’t high-tech fast, either, and you probably wouldn’t sail one to Mexico or even to Santa Catalina Island for a weekend. No bunks, no nav station, no head, just a Porta-Potty.

Catalina 37s were built for match racing where, as long as all boats are equal, speed and comfort are less important than durability because match racing is more Destruction Derby than Tour de France. And the Catalina 37s are certainly equal.

They were conceived and constructed by with solid—not cored—fiberglass hulls, making them heavier but tougher, with virtually indestructible rigging and hardware. If they hadn’t been built that way they wouldn’t have lasted long enough to survive two generations of punishment and abuse from the world’s best—i.e., instinctively aggressive—sailors.

Scott Dickson has probably raced them more than anybody. Since migrating to Long Beach from New Zealand in the early 90s he has raced them as a skipper in 12 Congressional Cups and several Ficker Cups, the qualifier event—and the same door that Sally Barkow used to qualify as only the event’s fourth woman skipper in nearly half a century.

Dickson, who also has raced other boats in other international events, sees no reason to change.

“They’re a good open platform and they’re simple, which really enables you to sail a big boat with a small team, which is very challenging,” Dickson said. “The 37s are hanging on from a previous generation where you had heavier displacement and bigger boats. Displacement for match racing is a very, very good thing … [being] slow to accelerate, slow to decelerate makes it a lot more technical. You have to plan ahead a lot more.

“The other older boats that are talked about that are still very popular are the IRDs in Bermuda, for exactly the same reason. It slows the whole game down, and you’ll find that a lot of the skippers enjoy those boats, as well.

“Because the boats are not high tech and there’s not too many strings to play with has put a premium on boat handling and crew work—and you can’t get any better than that for match racing.”

For 10 years before the C/37s the Congressional Cup used Catalina 38s that were maintained by the builder but were privately owned loaners and therefore difficult to equalize for match racing. Nevertheless, LBYC often expresses its gratitude for “three decades of generous support of Catalina Yachts.”

Butler and Douglas still lead the largest sailboat building company in the United States and remain properly proud of their Catalina 37 product—the only boats they ever gave away, probably more to boost the sport than for any promotional value to be gained from a stake in the granddaddy event of world-class match racing. They talked about their creation two decades after its debut.

Q: Did you think the Catalina 37 would still be going strong after 20 years?

Gerry Douglas: “Well, we build boats to last (smile). They still look very contemporary, and I think the key to the longevity of those boats is that they were so simple.”

Q: What would you do differently now?

Douglas: “Well, they’d be big trimarans, of course (smiling again).”

Frank Butler: “Gerry, that’s a matter of opinion. I would have liked to have had one less crew on it. The more people the more weight, and it’s hard to get people to come from all over the world to bring an extra one or two.”

Douglas: “On the other hand, it has given some local sailors a chance to participate as fill-in crew that might not have had the opportunity otherwise.”

Butler: “That is a point.”

Q: What about asymmetrical spinnakers that are now so popular?

Douglas: “You could make them into pole boats. At the time these boats were designed that wasn’t on the table.”

Q: Would that enhance performance?

Douglas: “I’m not sure. Watching these guys drive downwind is kind of fun. It would remove an element from the racing that makes it interesting. Watching these guys dip-jibe as they do so quickly is kind of neat, and that just wouldn’t happen with pole boats.”

Q: The 37s were designed primarily for match racing, but these days they’re also being chartered for fleet racing by crews that aren’t match racers. Does that surprise you?

Douglas: “They’re fairly simple boats. You don’t spend a lot of time learning how to make the boat work. Something the Foundation has done that’s been terrific is that so many other events use those boats … Harbor Cup, Long Beach Race Week, the Women’s [match racing event], the Linda Elias [Women's One-Design Challenge], the Yacht Club Challenge. That’s been neat to see.”

Q: What has been the biggest criticism of the boats over the years?

(Silence … then…)

Douglas: “I haven’t heard any, really … [except] at one time they were talking about a smaller, five-man boat, for reasons that Frank mentioned.”

Butler: “But that was about eight years ago.”

Douglas: “Technical criticism of the boat … nothing.”

Q: Speaking of the recent America’s Cup, what did you think of the match-racing tactics and strategy?

Douglas: “There didn’t seem to be any.”

Q: …compared to the Congressional Cup?

Butler: “When we go down to watch it, it’s is good from the very first to the very end.”

The Congressional Cup has maintained a high level of organization over the years with a 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 45 years.

Spinnaker sponsors are F&M Bank, the Press-Telegram and Oceanaut Watches. Sails sponsors are MCA Logistics, Gladstone’s Restaurant, Newmeyer & Dillion and Union Bank. Hospitality sponsors are The Port of Long Beach, St. Mary Medical Center, City National Bank, The Breakers of Long Beach and Mount Gay Rum. An Honorary sponsor is Catalina Yachts.

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