Williams triumphs and evens the score with his 5th Congressional Cup
Ian Williams (GBR) and Team Gladstone's Long Beach have won the 57th Congressional Cup – and a fifth iconic Crimson Blazer – toppling defending champion Taylor Canfield (USA) and Team Stars+Stripes 3 to 1 in the final matches of this thrilling five-day regatta. Sailing with Williams were: Matt Cornwell, Andrew Estcourt, Jon Gunderson, Steve Mitchell and Richard Sydenham.
In the petit final it was Chris Poole (USA) and Riptide Racing who captured third place over Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Sailing Team, in this legendary match racing event at Long Beach Yacht Club.
"This is what Congressional Cup is all about! Champagne sailing and the most exciting match racing in the world, with Ian Williams and Taylor Canfield battling it out again for the Crimson Blazer in the finals!" exclaimed Congressional Cup Chair Lisa Meier. Winners of the Congressional Cup receive the Crimson Blazer – a symbol of yachting excellence akin to The Masters' Green Jacket, in addition to honors and prize money.
"They have a long history and rivalry: Ian was first to win in 2011 and 2012, then Taylor took the Cup in 2014, 2015 and 2016. But Ian stole it back in 2017, and then they traded wins in 2018 and 2019 again! These two have been at it for two decades!"
But in 2021 Williams was unable to compete due to pandemic restrictions; Canfield swept in and captured his fifth title. "And this year Ian came back with fury to win the 2022 trophy!" Meier said. "So now the score is tied with five each: the greatest number of Congressional Cup wins for any skipper in history. What a thrill and honor for Long Beach Yacht Club to host the 57th running of this well-fought and iconic regatta."
Today's final stage took place beneath sunny skies with moderate breeze that built throughout the afternoon. 'Not so for Days One through Four, when a brisk westerly swept the Congressional Cup Stadium racecourse with winds consistently in the high teens and 20s. Conditions were testing for the crews; every tack and jibe that much more difficult in the heavy wind and chop.
In the opening round robin series Tuesday and Wednesday Canfield took an early lead, with Williams close astern. But it was a clash for the last two spots in the semifinals, with Berntsson and Poole squeezing out their rivals in the field of 10 of the world's top ranked match racing skippers.
In yesterday's semifinals Canfield beat Poole, as Williams defeated Berntsson, to advance the old rivals to the final stage.
Today began with a fleet race for the six teams disqualified after round robin series, with LBYC Permanent Staff Commodore Dave Hood's Congressional Cup team taking first place. Then it was 'fight on' to determine the podium places for the 57th Congressional Cup.
Racing was feverish, with heated pre-start maneuvers that continued throughout the matches, up and down the course; the teams mustering their remaining strength after a grueling week of sailing. Headsails up and down, tacks and jibes, dial ups and dial downs, and penalty flags flying: the skilled teams illustrating their superior handling and knowledge of the intricacies of match racing.
Canfield captured the first match and Williams the second; with a photo-finish going to Williams in the third as he did a hasty 'spin and win' to strike a penalty in the last seconds of the race. In the fourth flight Williams, a six-time World Champion, took control of the race from start to finish, to take match point and his fifth Congressional Cup title.
"I was devastated not to be here last year; and even more gutted now that I remember what I missed," said Williams. "I wanted to try to be the first to five wins so it feels fantastic now to have matched Taylor. What a great competitor: to match him is fantastic; I guess now it's a race to six!"
Williams applauded his crew saying, "We hadn't been here for three years, I hadn't match raced for 18 months, and it's been years for some of the guys. So we had a lot of work to do, but just kept improving every day; all the way through the finals. I can't say enough about these guys."
"And a shout out to Chair Lisa Meier and the yacht club too, to turn this around six months after the last event," Williams continued. The 2021 event was postponed from its traditional spring timeframe to September. "It's a testament to how hard everyone must have worked, and what great stability this regatta provides the match racing world during difficult times."
For Team Stars+Stripes, it was a disappointing result, said Canfield. "The team was pushing hard all through the end, but when you're sailing against a really good team, any mistake is very costly: they are always going to capitalize on it. We were excited to face off in the finals and it's obviously a disappointing finish, but it just makes us hungry to come back and win some more."
In the petit final, a collision between Poole and Berntsson in the first match gave the advantage to Berntsson for the win: and Poole a penalty of -.75 points, adding a twist to the series. In this 'first to two points' series Poole would need to win three matches, as he was starting with a deficit. With nothing to lose, Poole put the hammer down and won the next two races; putting the points at Berntsson 1 – Poole 1.25 and necessitating a fourth match. Victory in that duel earned him third place in this 2022 event, moving up from a fourth-place win in Congressional Cup 2021.
"My guys sailed really well, building off of last year," said Poole. "How we sailed those last few races in the petit final was really the highlight of the week."
"The Congressional Cup is always the top of the heap as far as the competition goes," he added. "Every competitor here took a race off of us at some point, but we love the challenge, and we love being here. We went against the best of the world and feel we can hold our heads high."
The Congressional Cup has represented the pinnacle of sportsmanship and match racing skill since the first event, in 1965.
At that time, the space race was full throttle but down on earth the Rolling Stones were on tour, performing their latest Billboard hit (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. People sipped a new drink, Gatorade, while they watched Bonanza on tv. Gas was 30¢ a gallon.
The inaugural Congressional Cup was held February 5 to 7, 1965: the vision of then Vice Commodore Bill Dalessi. Deeded "for the purpose of encouraging yacht racing in the United States of America and with the desire to promote the highest standards of excellence..." it has stood the test of time and remains a magnet for the top-ranked skippers and crews from around the globe.
"Our mission is to preserve the tradition of Congressional Cup, while we continue to advance the sport and experience, and break barriers," said Meier. "This year we have a female crew member, Elizabeth Whitener, on second place Team Stars+Stripes, which I am so proud of. We haven't seen a woman sailor in the finals of the Congressional Cup in recent history, so this is exciting. At LBYC we encourage inclusivity, access and opportunities for everyone, and are proud to programs that provide a gateway to the sport of sailing to anyone who wants to participate."
"I feel extraordinarily lucky and very happy to be able to sail with Stars+Stripes," said Whitener."Stars+Stripes' message of inclusivity is brilliant. It's so important to me that we get women and people from all different backgrounds out on the water sailing, and Stars+Stripes has such a great kind of grasp on what needs to happen. It's just a matter of time before these transitions really start to get picked up. It's our time to start stepping up."
"I hope I am a good representative for women and girls who want to go further in sailing and take on a bigger role," Whitener continued. "Because there are a lot of times when we all get told, 'No, you can't do this,' and I'm trying to help prove, 'Yes, you definitely can.'"
THE CONGRESSIONAL CUP is one of the most prestigious top-level yachting events in the world. Established by LBYC in 1965, it is recognized as the "grandfather" of match racing, pioneering the concept of on-the-water umpiring. Each year, this World Match Racing Tour World action-packed competition features an elite delegation of the world's best sailors competing in five days of rousing matches, in the waters off Long Beach, Calif.