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Congressional Cup Outlook

Action at the 2000 Con Cup with Peter Holmberg in hot pursuit.
Later this week the waters off of Los Angeles, CA will be roiling with activity. Not only will nearly 400 boats be lining up on Friday for the start of the Newport-Ensenada Race (the event that bills itself as the "World's Largest International Yacht Race"), but just to the north some of the world's top match-racing talent will be in the thick of competition at the 37th annual Congressional Cup. Among the skippers vying for the coveted crimson jacket and the $6,000 that accompany first-place honors will be Ken Read. Though his is a name that most sailboat racing aficionados are likely to recognize, (he's a six-time J/24 World Champion, two-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, and now a veteran member of the Stars & Stripes afterguard), he's a relative rookie on the match-race circuit. SailNet touched base with Read to get his take on this event and to find out how this season's match-racing activity fits into his plans for the 2003 America's Cup.

SailNet: Tell us a little bit about your team and what events you've sailed so far on the circuit?

Ken Read: We've got Terry Hutchinson calling tactics, Moose McClintock as a downwind trimmer, Morgan Trubovich trimming the jib, Chuck Brown on mainsail, and Jerry Kirby on the bow. All of these guys are involved in our Stars & Stripes AC campaign. We started off doing the Knickerbocker Cup last fall and we just came back from Perth, at the Sun Microsytems Australia Cup. We'll do the Knickerbocker again and the Bermuda Gold Cup. The goal is to do about five match-racing events a year. It builds your confidence in the game and it keeps you sharp. You're always striving to become a better sailor, so we use these opportunities as a way of feeling confident in any position we get ourselves into on the racecourse. Almost routinely we do at least one practice training session between each event, so that's 10 match-race outings each year.

Ken Read—match-racing alpha dog in ascendance or just another fleet racer trying out a new racing discipline?  
SN: You're up against some prettty stiff competition with some of the top-ranked match-racing sailors in the world among the field at the Con Cup. Do you feel like your team is at a disadvantage because you're relatively new on the circuit and you've never skippered a boat in this event before?

KR: The one thing we've learned in the events we've done is that there's no such thing as an easy race. The people who are in these events are being invited for one reason alone—they're good at this. So you've got to go to war every single race out there. But I'm not a pure rookie. I did this event as a tactician for Peter Holmberg two years ago and we won. And Terry has won it as a driver and Moose has won as Terry's tactician and Jerry has done about 50 of these things because he's 100 years old, and Morgan has won as a trimmer. So we're starting to build some expectations among ourselves in the match-racing game. We've been top four in the other events so far, and we're looking to get better. I mean, we tell ourselves that we're not there necessarily to win, but to get better and to build our match-racing skills. I mean that sounds good, but honestly, it's time to win one of these things. It would be a nice bonus to keep moving up the ladder. I like our chances. Why not?

SN: Seven of the 10 skippers at the Congressional Cup are affiliated with America's Cup campaigns, do you look at this event as a barometer of how those syndicates are progressing toward the next Cup?

KR: No. Not even remotely. You have to remember that Francesco de Angelis was coming in fifth, sixth, and seventh in these events the year before the last America's Cup, and then he went all the way to the Cup finals. All this [match racing] is, is one small part of the total America's Cup program. But it's a part that you can put your finger on, so therefore go do it. I mean the other parts include building a fast boat. You have all these great minds sitting in a room reaching out at the best way to build a fast AC boat. But that's not tangible to me. Here we can touch it and feel it and get out there and do it.

The often light airs off Long Beach can make the Con Cup a test of  concentration and determination.
Are you enjoying this format of racing?

KR: Definitely. I've learned that the best part of match racing is that it's racing a sailboat through the water. By that I mean that it's really no different than any other racing you do once you cross the starting line—there are windshifts and waves and other boats. As soon as you convince yourself that it's nothing more than a boat race, you get rid of your anxieties and you do way better.

Another interesting part of the match racing tour is that you sail very different styles of boats in different conditions at each event. At Perth we sailed little rocketships in 25 knots of breeze. At Long Beach we'll be in slow masthead clunkers, so it's interesting to see how we respond as a team to these changing sets of conditions. I said before that I don't use these events a barometer for the other AC teams, but I do use them as a barometer for our team, how we're gelling and how we're adapting to the challenges.

SN: So how is it working out sailing with Terry Hutchinson, who used to be a big rival?

KR: Great. We've been competitors for years and we worked together for four years here in Rhode Island, so we're good friends. We speak the same language when it comes to competing and we've got really similar sailing styles. I think we've both grown up from the good old days of being arch enemies on the water. The great thing is that we've both learned to utilize other people's strengths to our collective advantage.

According to Read, there are no easy races at this level of the sport—everyone brings their A game.
SN: Is match racing a good fit for you apart from your preparation for the America's Cup?

KR: Absolutely. The best part of this is, not that my career needed a boost, but it's a fun, new aspect of sailing that I'm really enjoying. We practiced in Annapolis and we went to Australia early to practice, and we're organizing a Monday night match-race program here in Newport. I mean, I'm actually wanting to go sailing again, I'm energized. I'm 39 years old now, and I look at things a little differently. Going to the SORC in the mid 80s was a wild adventure and doing the Lightning circuit and all the J/24 stuff was great fun, I couldn't wait to do it. But after doing that for 15 years, I'm kind of looking for a change of pace. And it's kind of fun to go out and get your butt kicked because it really gives the incentive to do better—it's a shot in the arm. It's great competition and it keeps you sharp.We're definitely not the best at this, so that's why we keep doing it. To get better and maybe be the best.

Hunting for the Red Blazer

The annual Congressional Cup is one of the most prestigious match-racing regattas around. This year, it is one of two Grade-1 events in the US. With a total of $25,000 in prize money at stake, here's a look at the field that will be competing from Wednesday through Sunday at the Long Beach Yacht Club aboard identical Catalina 37s:

Bertrand Pace Ranked third in the world, he's the top-ranked sailor in the field. Two-time winner Peter Holmberg says Pace is "on form" now and will be tough to unseat.
Luc Pillot One of three non-America's Cup campaigners, Pillot is currently ranked ninth in the world, which means he and his team have been active on the circuit this year.
Jesper Radich Another non-America's Cup sailor, Radich is ranked fifth in the world of match racing. He and is team won two events last year, but this is his first Con Cup.
Rod Davis  A member of Team Prada's AC syndicate, this former San Diegan owns four crimson jackets and he'll have two-time winner Gavin Brady calling tactics.
Sebastian Destremau This Australian is currently ranked 18th in the world, but he's nonetheless something of a dark horse in this field.
Morgan Larson Representing the One World AC syndicate, Larson has Jonathan McKee calling the shots and a solid team of sailors on board.
James Spithill Also from the One World AC syndicate, this young Australian is a perennial bridesmaid on the leaderboard, but some pundits say it's his turn for a win.
Peter Holmberg At 31st in the world, this member of Oracle Racing's AC team is the highest-ranked American match racer, but this is a new crew and the Con Cup will be Humbug's first outing in six months.
Ken ReadRepresenting Team Dennis Conner, Read has a talented crew that is just getting its start on the circuit; the area's shifty conditions should suit his strengths.
Andy Green The 8th-ranked match racer in the world, Green represents the GBR Challenge in the UK and comes with a battle-tested team. This is his second appearance at the Con Cup.

Suggested Reading:

Success at the Swedish Match Cup  by Dobbs Davis

Lessons from the Rolex 2000 ISAF Women's Match Race Worlds  by Betsy Alison

Russell Coutts Grabs Top Honors at Colorcraft Gold Cup by Ed Baird


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