Monday, March 22, 2010

Berntsson, Brady, Bruni, Barkow battle in Con Cup

By Rich Roberts

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." -