Congressional Cup: Maintaining the Monohull Paradigm

Published on April 4th, 2016

The only two World Match Racing Tour events in North America are caught between their historic past and a newly launched Tour format which features the M32 catamaran.

While organizers of the Argo Group Gold Cup in Bermuda have yet to decide if they will abandon the International One Design sloop for the 68th edition in October, the Congressional Cup in Long Beach (CA) is standing firm with their fleet of Catalina 37s, a condition the Tour has accepted… for now.

As the Congressional Cup prepares for its 52nd edition on April 6-10, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checks in with Principal Race Officer Randy Smith for an update.

You have some history with the Congressional Cup.

I have been involved since the early 90’s, sailing in the event as a crewmember five times. I served as the PRO for the first time in 2003 and this year will be my seventh time in that role. I also wore the big chair hat in 2006.

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Randy Smith

The Tour’ format has moved to multihulls. Why has the Congressional Cup stayed with the Catalina 37s?

We’ve been affiliated with the tour off and on in the past, and we renewed that partnership in 2015. We love the tour, the people involved, and their mission to provide a professional circuit. However, we also feel we have an important responsibility to the sport, and we are taking the position that everybody – certainly in the United States and perhaps beyond the United States – is looking at what we do, how we run our races, and where we’re going.

In 2016, we have more than a dozen match racing events on our calendar and to our knowledge there is no other club or entity which is that vested in match racing. This ranges from entry-level to pro events, and junior and women’s events, and we have built up the infrastructure – umpires, race committee, boats – to support this schedule.

There is an entire match racing paradigm that needs leadership and the conclusion we’ve come to is there’s such a huge investment in keelboat match racing and training, and not just with us but throughout the country, and it just doesn’t seem very realistic to suddenly say that match racing is now in catamarans. There are junior championships and collegiate nationals, and several highly organized multi-event regional circuits. These roads lead to the Congressional Cup… we can’t just cut that off.

The Congressional Cup has long been a vital stepping stone toward the America’s Cup. Now that the America’s Cup is vested in multihulls, where does that leave you?

Bottom line is the America’s Cup is not mainstream sailing anymore. When it was in the IACC boats, there were many, many elite keelboat platforms that were preparing people for the America’s Cup. Plus the knowledge gained at the America’s Cup was widely transferrable back to the sport. But now that the America’s Cup is in catamarans, those channels have changed.

While this shift to catamarans might be awesome, there’s now a really big disconnect. If the Tour comes to us and says “Hey, we want to have a catamaran event in Long Beach at Long Beach Yacht Club”, we’d be all over it and try to make it work but we just don’t see that direction as a significant basis of what match racing is in the sport.

But a catamaran event, if it were to happen, wouldn’t be the Congressional Cup.

As it stands, we are in discussion regarding the possibility of hosting a M32 event in the fall, but it would be completely separate from the Congressional Cup. The Congressional Cup has a myriad of relationships that we are proud of and want to maintain. We are in a partnership with the Women’s Match Racing Association, the Grand Slam Series, Oakcliff, St Francis Yacht Club, San Diego Yacht Club, and others. We have a lot of synergy going with all these other clubs and entities that are all funneling people upwards to sail in Congressional Cup. So if we suddenly said, “Okay we’re out. We’re going to catamaran now”, we would be crushing a bunch of really good partners and friends.

You mention disconnect, but that knife cuts both ways. Does the Congressional Cup need to be a stepping stone to a grander stage?

I think there are enough keelboat events around the world, whether they are grade one or grade two events, that if the World Match Racing Tour and America’s Cup stays with catamaran, there’s a very good chance that we could soon be seeing a Keelboat World Match Racing Tour.

Also, one of the huge decisions for World Sailing is whether they continue using the World Match Racing Tour to determine the Match Racing World Champion. With the Tour now using catamarans, and Tour events now including fleet racing in their format, it will be interesting to see if World Sailing decides that the Tour is no longer a good platform for their trophy.

Bottom line is that we’re not running the Congressional Cup to make money or for our egos. We’re trying to put on a really important event in sailing. This is an event that the members of Long Beach Yacht Club are highly active in and extremely proud of.

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