Eight Bells: William Dalessi
Published on June 14th, 2021
William T. Dalessi, the founder of Long Beach’s Congressional Cup match race, which over the years has become one of the world’s premiere sailing competitions, passed away May 24, 2021. He was 98. Dalessi, an avid yachtsman, successful attorney and former Long Beach City Council member, died in Huntington Beach, CA.
At one time, Dalessi was a law partner of former Gov. George Deukmejian, and served as his campaign chairman during Deukmejian’s state Senate reelection bid in 1976.
But perhaps his most lasting legacy will be creating the Congressional Cup, known as the “grandfather of match racing,” which annually attracts the best sailors in the world. The Congressional Cup, hosted by the Long Beach Yacht Club, is part of the World Match Racing Tour.
He served in the United States Army Air Corps — the predecessor to the Air Force — during World War II. Dalessi was a B-17 fighter pilot in Germany and France. In flight school, he soloed in a mere nine hours.
After the war, Dalessi used the money he received from the GI Bill to attend USC and earn a law degree, then moving to Long Beach to establish a law firm and join the Long Beach Yacht Club, climbing the organization’s leadership ladder — eventually serving as commodore in 1966.
After becoming inspired by the popular Newport to Ensenada races, where competitors vie for the “President of the U.S.” and “President of Mexico” trophies, Dalessi pitched the concept of an annual Long Beach regatta. It’d be called the President’s Cup.
But President Lyndon Johnson declined to sponsor the race.
Former U.S. Rep. Craig Hosmer and former Sen. Thomas H. Kuchel, both of whom were California Republicans and had facilitated getting Dalessi’s initial request to the president, offered to sponsor an alternate event — the Congressional Cup — in July 1964.
Dalessi acted quickly and in February 1965, the first race took place. Since then, the regatta has attracted the best sailors in the world and is considered LBYC’s signature regatta. Dalessi would later go on to establish the Long Beach to La Paz (now Cabo San Lucas) race in 1965, and actively competed in regattas while serving the sport.
Delassi is survived by his wife of 60 years, Margo; daughter, Pamela Thompson; and son William B. Dalessi. He was preceded in death by son Theodore Dalessi.