Ian Williams wins Congressional Cup
Published on April 2nd, 2017
Long Beach, CA (April 2, 2017) – In a series of matches that were as mercurial as the weather, Ian Williams (GBR) and his Team GAC Pindar triumphed in the 53rd Congressional Cup, the second event of the World Match Racing Tour, beating Johnie Berntsson (SWE) in a fifth and final winner-take-all match.
Not since 2012 has Ian Williams [GRB] donned the coveted Crimson Blazer, the honor bestowed to the top names in sailing since 1965. What the Masters Green Jacket is to pro golfing, the Crimson Blazer is to yacht racing.
But Williams had been denied, after two consecutive Congressional Cup wins in 2011 and 2012; even as he reigned as six-time Match Racing World Champion. And in 2016, his team finished last in Congressional Cup racing.
That shakeup was motivating, said Williams, who vowed to come back and redeem himself. He returned to Congressional Cup this week, building momentum throughout the five-day event. In the Quarter Finals he conquered Chris Steele (NZL), moving on to beat defending champion Taylor Canfield in the Semi Finals in three strokes; leading Williams into the Finals against Berntsson.
Sailed on identical 37-foot Catalina sloops, races were aggressive, including two matches held as a thick bank of fog rolled through. “It’s rare to race like that; difficult when you can’t see the top mark,” Williams said. But they were able to keep close to Berntsson, and get a win in the second match. “Johnie has been on fire this week, and we thought once we got a win on him, maybe we could break his spell.”
In the fourth flight, that fire turned explosive. In a blistering pre-start, as the boats skimmed the pier, Williams was penalized for nosing in without room. Flagged, he continued his combat with Berntsson, sprinting toward the start line, but didn’t keep clear of the committee boat. As he tacked, he was forced to fend off, warranting another flag. For not performing the penalty turn swiftly enough, he was black flagged: the race over nearly as soon as it had begun.
“We were expecting it,” Williams admitted, but they shook it off. “We just had to forget about it, and move on to the next race.”
With wheels spinning, racing resumed, in a final winner-takes-all match. Splitting tacks, Williams went left while Berntsson banked on the right side of the course … and lost. With the late afternoon wind waning, William got the better breeze, and defeated Berntsson by over a minute.
Going into the day, both Berntsson and Williams were within one point of the Finals. Each smartly dispatched their rivals: Taylor Canfield (ISV) and Phil Robertson (NZL) (respectively) – who went on to compete in the Petite Finals. In that contest, Canfield defeated Robertson 2-0 for third place in the Congressional Cup regatta.
Berntsson had cruised through Qualifying, finishing at the top of the leaderboard over 11 of the world’s top yacht racing talents. His only losses during the week had been to Harry Price (AUS) and Gilmour (AUS) – two young talented Aussie, who were subsequently eliminated.
Berntsson had been on a roll and eager to win his second Crimson Blazer: having won the title in 2009. Bowing to Williams in the Finals, he said, “We’re already looking forward to coming back next year.”
Today’s racing had commenced in 11k of southerly breeze for the 1.5nm Fleet Race and a $2K purse was won by Steele; but not without a fight from Sam Gilmour (AUS).
1. Ian Williams (GBR)
2. Johnie Berntsson (SWE)
3. Taylor Canfield (ISV)
4. Phil Robertson (NZL)
5. Sam Gilmour (AUS)
6. Scott Dickson (USA)
7. Joachim Aschenbrenner (DEN)
8. Chris Steele (NZL)
9. Eric Monin (SUI)
10. Harry Price (AUS)
11. Nicolai Sehested (DEN)
12. David Storrs (USA)
2017 World Championship Level Events:
WMRT Match Cup Australia, March 20-25
WMRT Congressional Cup, March 29-April 2
WMRT Northern Europe, June 6-11 (Venue TBA)
WMRT Match Cup Sweden, July 3-8 (Venue TBA)
WMRT Match Cup USA, August 1-6 (Venue TBA)
WMRT Match Cup America, October 3-8 (Venue TBA)
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS
WMRT Match Cup China, November 3-10 (Venue TBA)
Background: In 2013, Swedish company Aston Harald AB acquired the design and production rights to the one-design M32 catamarans. In July 2015, Aston Harald AB acquired the World Match Racing Tour, which then began the use of the M32 during the 2016 Tour. Launched in 2000, the World Match Racing Tour is the leading professional match racing series sanctioned by World Sailing.