Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Berntsson all alone at 5-0 after Day 1 of Con Cup

by Rich Roberts

The Long Beach breeze would seldom be called fickle, but it took a freak turn Tuesday that settled a battle of unbeatens and left defending champion Johnie Berntsson of Sweden in first place after Day 1 of the 46th Congressional Cup.

Late in the fourth of five flights, the wind shifted 70 degrees to northwest directly out of downtown Long Beach and dropped from a peak of 16 knots to 3, sending Berntsson home free.

Then, with the course re-set in the new direction, Berntsson (5-0) made all the right plays to beat four-time winner Gavin Brady (4-1) by 1 minute 25 seconds in the last flight of the day.

"We were lucky to have the right shift," Berntsson said. "It was a matter of timing the wind and not doing more tacking than you needed to do."

Halfway up the first beat he broke off a tacking duel and went toward the beach as Brady went the opposite way. When Berntsson returned to round the windward mark he had an unbeatable led in the drifting breeze.

"All the tacking was very expensive," he said.

Not so lucky was Bill Hardesty, a first-time Congressional Cup skipper who in the previous flight was swapping leads with Berntsson in a bow to bow battle near the end of their race.

"We were two boats left of him, and that was enough to put 20 boat lengths on us," Hardesty (2-3) said.

At day's end, then, Brady shared second place with Italy's Francesco Bruni, last year's runnerup, and two-time winner Dave Perry, whose only stumble was against Berntsson, who made the noted rules guru pay hard with penalties for two tactical miscues to win by 1 minute 24 seconds.

It was not so nice a day for Sally Barkow, a two-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and the event's first woman skipper since 1996 who sits at 0-5 after what she described as a learning experience.

"We had a tough day," she said, "but racing against some of the best professionals here is fun. It takes some time to get used to the boats, and that's what today was about."

Brady offered the same tone that "first you get a feel for the conditions and try to get faster every day so at the end of the week you're ready for the semifinals."

Racing will continue 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.

The racing is in the Long Beach outer harbor off Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, with free grandstand seating and parking for spectators.