Congressional Cup: 2009


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Photo:©2009 Rich Roberts

At the Congressional Cup: America's Cup Sailors Look Ahead

Long Beach, March 30, 2009


As sailors gathered in Long Beach, California, for the Congressional Cup match racing regatta, the current state of the America's Cup wasn’t far from anyone’s mind.  Lately life for America’s Cup crews mirrors life in general –- a volatile market, boatloads of uncertainty, and a pretty high unemployment rate. 

Diane Swintal caught up with some of the sailors –- Rod Davis, Ben Ainslie, Cameron Appleton, Francesco Bruni, Tom Burnham, and Sebastien Col -- to get their thoughts about everything from the recent Louis Vuitton Pacific Series to the effect the current Cup situation is having on their racing lives, not to mention means of employment.  Add into the mix a perspective from someone who’s been there, done that, and might do it again, Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Terry Hutchinson.  Her report:

Rod Davis, a longtime Cup competitor and currently coach of Emirates Team New Zealand, worked with rising star Adam Minoprio at the Congressional Cup, handling coaching duties and calling tactics.  Davis is high on Minoprio but not as optimistic about the Cup’s near future.

“I’m locked up with Team New Zealand and I’ll coach them if there is an America’s Cup that includes other countries,” said Davis.  “From what I can see, the only way that will happen is if Alinghi wins the court case, but my feeling is they probably won’t.”

 
 

Ben Ainslie competing in the Congressional Cup at LBYC.
Photo:©2009 Rich Roberts
 

“Rational human beings would have sat down with a beer and talked about it and worked it out and moved on.  But these two guys have dug in their corners so hard that it’s just not going to happen.  I’d like for it to happen, but every time I think ‘Aw, this is going to work out’, I’ve been disappointed.”

“One of the hopes is that if they do race these two catamarans, that Louis Vuitton and Team New Zealand and maybe another team can generate [another Louis Vuitton Pacific Series] and move that around.  There’s talk of doing one in San Francisco, one in the Med, and one back in Auckland next year.” 

Cameron Appleton sailed with South Africa’s Shosholoza in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series and like all the sailors was happy to have had that chance to race again in the class, but as far as his future goes he’s taking it one race at a time, starting with calling tactics for Terry Hutchinson’s Quantum Racing team in Long Beach.

“The LVPS was a fantastically run event and it was great for the sailors to be able to go out and match race those boats in a different sort of format and style,” said Appleton.  “The closeness and tightness of all the maneuvers and pre-starts was something we haven’t really seen before.  Shosholoza didn’t have the result we felt we should have achieved –- we sailed pretty well but small little things didn’t go our way.  It was great to be involved and back in that kind of sailing again, but until things get sorted out, there’s nothing more in that area.

“What’s next for me is the Congressional Cup.  It’s one event at a time for me.  Between now and the end of the year I’m doing the GP42 circuit and my main project which is the RC44s with Team Aqua, so there’s a lot to look forward to and a lot to focus on, but right now there’s two days ahead of us that are pretty important.”

Ben Ainslie was instrumental in putting together the British entry for the America’s Cup, Team Origin.  After disappointing finishes in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series and in the Congressional Cup (where winning the fleet race sailed between the teams that didn’t make the semi-final was small consolation), Ainslie knows there’s still work to be done –- he’s just not sure where and how that work will happen. 

“The focus is still the America’s Cup, and the World Match Racing Tour is just one of the parts of it for us, trying to use that as a tool –- and from the result here, we’ve still got a bit to work on,” acknowledged Ainslie.  “So at the moment, we’re looking at doing four or five events on the Tour, which will be a great opportunity to get out there and race.

“As a team, we’ve got a sailing schedule mapped out for this year, whether the America’s Cup acts happen or not.  There’s lots of other sailing: the match racing and some sailing on Neville Crichton’s mini-maxi (Alfa Romeo III) which will be great for us.

“But obviously, the huge thing will be whether we have some certainty in the America’s Cup or not,” said Aislie.

Origin is prepared to go forward if Alinghi wins in court: “We’re very far along with the new boat.  We’ve mapped everything out.  You’ve got to be ready because if Alinghi does win, then you’ve basically got to be finalizing your design in 12-14 weeks time.  Our boat designer, Juan Kouyoumdjian has done a fantastic job and has got some good ideas.  If it does go that way, then we’ll be happy that we had everything in place.”

 

 

Match racing off Long Beach.
Photo:©2009 Rich Roberts
 

Francesco Bruni was a late entry into the Congressional Cup, but for anyone who paid attention to the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, the Italian’s second place performance at Long Beach was no surprise -- in the LVPS he drove the brand new Damiani Italia to a fourth place finish.  Beating Ben Ainslie and Sebastien Col in Auckland was a good set up for Long Beach.

Bruni: “I’m kind of tired of hearing that we are a surprise -- as though I’ve never sailed before!  I know I’m probably not the favorite here and we are a new team, but we have done some match racing before and we know what it’s like when it’s your week. 

“I like the slow and heavy boats like the America’s Cup boats -- that’s the style I learned in the beginning of my match racing experience, doing main trim for Rod Davis.” 

With the America’s Cup –- and the future of Damiani Italia –- in flux, Bruni’s focus is on the fledgling Joe Fly Match Race team, with several of the crew sailing with him in Long Beach.  But instead of the ebullient Vasco Vascotto calling tactics, Bruni had American Tom Burnham, fellow Prada alum, behind him.  With three America’s Cup campaigns on his résumé, Burnham’s perspective on the Cup’s future is as much personal as it is professional.

“No one’s really getting phone calls [from teams] right now, except maybe for helmsmen” says Burnham.  “Everything’s on hold and no one’s really talking.”

Burnham cites the stability of the long term engagements that come with an America’s Cup campaign as a welcome contrast to the itinerant sailor’s lifestyle that a schedule of shorter events creates.  “It’s especially hard on your family life -- the nomadic life is really hard.  I’m here, then I’m home for 10 days, then I’m gone for six weeks in Europe with Quantum Racing’s TP52.  So that’s a lot of time that I won’t see my wife or kids, whereas with the America’s Cup, you’re in one place for a while.  I’d love to continue sailing in the America’s Cup.”  

Burnham sailed with Team China in the LVPS and like everyone, has plenty of praise for the event -- and especially for Team China helmsman Ian Williams.

“I think we really exceeded expectations.  China had only won one AC race in 2007 and Ian had never driven this boat.  We had no practice, but things came together really well.  I’m really happy with the way things turned out in Auckland.”

On the agenda for K-Challenge skipper Sebastien Col is some time off.  Then, some decisions, which might mean K-Challenge leaves the America’s Cup arena.

“First thing for us is a break,” said Col.  “We went straight from the LVPS to the RC44s to this.  But the World Match Racing Tour is our first target this year -- we finished second in the world last year.”

K-Challenge would be ready to go when the America’s Cup is in motion again.  “All the assets are at the base in Valencia.  One part of the team came together to do the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series.  Two guys are working on the design [of the new boat].  We are all waiting for the same thing.  Personally, I think that I’m going to do other things than the America’s Cup if this court case doesn’t help the Cup team to come back onto the water quickly. 

“K-Challenge will stay, because they’re not only linked to the America’s Cup, there are other projects around, but we’ll have to figure out what we can do with all the assets that we have and what’s the best way to keep the team going. 

“I think the best way is to look at the offshore racing, like the Volvo Ocean Race.  I think as a team we are looking at what are the major sailing events in the world.  There is the America’s Cup for sure, but there are also other things, like the VOR, where we can find sponsors and we can compete.”

Despite praise for the LVPS, he is not clear how similar future events would fit into their program.  “I’m not sure the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series will help -- except if we have medium-term targets.  The LVPS worked well in Auckland because of many factors, since many teams were looking at sponsors for the next Cup and teams were able to give their boats to race.  I don’t think it would be easy to do again with no dates in the short term for the America’s Cup.  I don’t see teams spending the money just for doing match racing in AC boats.”

Terry Hutchinson has a lot on his plate this year, but if plans develop, he could have a lot more -- including a return to the America’s Cup scene.  First up, though, is the Quantum Racing TP52 program -- an effort that may be moving up in class in the future.

“It’s going to be exciting,” said Hutchinson.  “14 of the 15 guys are coming back this year, so I think we have everything there that we need to win.  But we also have guys coming out of the shed with newer, refined designs, so that’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

 
 

Terry Hutchinson in the Congressional Cup.
Photo:©2009 Rich Roberts
 

With an eye toward an America’s Cup future, Hutchinson has his own take on the current situation.

“I would love to do the Cup again -- I would like to think that what we’re doing with Quantum Racing is developing a solid America’s Cup team.  I’d say that if Alinghi wins the court case then there are some really good opportunities to do the America’s Cup. 

"I have a contract with a team that I haven’t signed yet but it’s all predicated on Alinghi winning the court case.”

Hutchinson notes some similarities the TP52 class has with the proposed new AC90.  “It looks like a stretched-out version of a TP52, with quite a bit less stability.  So upwind it will be a very challenging boat to sail and will get overpowered very quickly and downwind, it will go three or four knots over wind speed, so it will be very exciting. 

“It will be very fast and a real challenge to sail it well.  It will be a good opportunity for the teams that are going right now, like Team New Zealand, the Spanish and Team Origin, to take the Cup off Alinghi.”

-- Reporting by Diane Swintal for CupInfo/©2009 CupInfo
 


Links of Interest:

Congressional Cup 2009:
Event Web Site at Long Beach YC
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