LONG BEACH — Youth sailors from Long Beach Yacht Club got a test of both skills and scruples when they squared off against the skippers of the Congressional Cup, in a fun and frivolous evening regatta off the Naples-based club.
Taking a break from the intense competition of the Congressional Cup – an annual Grade 1 match racing event that brings the world’s top ISAF-ranked skippers to Long Beach – 10 Congressional Cup skippers pitted against a field of 10 Long Beach YC junior sailors selected for the Junior Congressional Cup.
Lunging off the dock in a La Mans-style start aboard Naples Sabots, the fleet wafted out into the channel for an around-the-buoys race. But the wind was feeble and the sabot slow.
“It was very light, so you have to stay very far forward in the boat,” explained 13-year-old Mac Griggs, who tied for first along with Matthew Petro, 12; with Peter Sangmeister, 12, close behind. “It was definitely funny to see how hard they [the Congressional Cup skippers] tried to go fast, yet how slow they moved.”
Some of the pros resorted to less scrupulous devices: paddling, rocking and ooching to propel themselves in the waning zephyrs. And New Zealand’s Phil Robertson flung water at his foes with a bailer, while Scott Dickson (U.S.) tried to flip his rivals’ dinghies. Dave Perry (U.S.) grabbed a race committee boat and was towed around the course – much to the chagrin of a youngster who squealed, “You’re cheating!”
It could not have been more of a contrast from the main Congressional Cup event being raced off the Belmont Pier April 7 to April 13. Those clashes commence with impeccably timed and maneuvered pre-start sequences, by competitors who duel two-by-two, including five of the top 10 ISAF-ranked skippers from around the world: Taylor Canfield, No. 1, USVI; Ian Williams, No. 2, GBR; Phil Robertson, No. 4, NZL; Mathieu Richard, No. 5, FRA; and Keith Swinton, No. 7, AUS. Along the way, they are trailed closely by watchful on-the-water umpires to ensure fair play. Matches are sailed in identical Catalina 37 race boats designed specifically for the event, as racers vie for the iconic Crimson Blazer honors, in the event which is – for many – a gateway to the America’s Cup.
“This is a good way to encourage kids to think about a future in sailing, and stay in sailing,” said Johnie Berntsson, ranked 18 in the world; whose daughter Lynn, 10, and son Elias, 7, are active junior sailors at home in Sweden.
After the race, the star-studded panel of skippers lined up to sign autographs and caps for the children. “It’s really important for kids to have role models in sailing,” Berntsson continued, “although these kids are much faster and know how to sail these boats better than us.”
“It was pretty funny to see them try as hard as they could to beat us,” added Petro, who was quick to shake hands with co-victor Griggs the moment they reached the dock. A runner-up in the Junior Congressional Cup in 2012 and 2013, Petro said he had been looking forward to this event all year. And what was his secret to winning, against such high level talent?
“Not cheating. Take the moral high road and just do the best you can.”
The Congressional Cup regatta is one of the world’s premiere match-racing events since 1965, perennially drawing the top names such as Dennis Conner, Ted Turner, Dean Barker, Jimmy Spithill, and the like. It is hosted each spring by the Long Beach Yacht Club and a band of volunteers more than 300-strong.
— Jo Murray contributed to this report