Chris Steele and Team Win Ficker Cup, Advance to Congressional Cup

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Chris Steele accepts Ficker Cup trophy from Mike VanDyke.

Chris Steele accepts Ficker Cup trophy from Mike VanDyke.

Chris Steele and team, representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, have won the Ficker Cup trophy following a nearly flawless regatta, surrendering only two races over the course of three days; and winning a spot in next week’s Congressional Cup regatta.

And while all eyes now turn now toward next week’s big event, the honor and prestige of the Ficker Cup itself cannot go unnoticed. This respected Grade Two regatta was established by Long Beach Yacht Club in 1980 to honor Bill Ficker, winning skipper of the 1970 America’s Cup, and world-class Star boat champion. Etched on the trophy are the names of sailing greats like John Kostecki, Scott Dickson and Sally Barkow; plus Terry Hutchinson and Simone Ferrarese – both of whom went on to win the Congressional Cup in subsequent years.

Steele had been hopeful for a spot on the 2015/16 World Match Racing Tour – but when denied a card, he said he wanted to “prove a point” and come to the party anyway. The much-coveted WMRT card guarantees the eight chosen competitors a place at each event on the World Championship circuit – including Congressional Cup, now the season opener for WMRT.

But Steele was undeterred. He had competed in the Congressional Cup in his teens, as crew for four-time winner Gavin Brady, and was eager to take the helm himself. Arriving from New Zealand, he sailed decisively into the victory seat, dispatching Hood in the semi-finals in two blows, and Durant in the finals.

“We’re on the path,” Steele said, after his Ficker Cup victory. “We came here with the intention of trying to learn as much as we could, and we knew if we didn’t qualify for anything, we weren’t good enough to be racing anyway.” He added, “We stepped it up to another level and are happy with the day – but are not going to lose focus on next week.”

Day Three Racing Recap
After two cool and cloudy days, the sunshine appeared on Day Three; perhaps in recognition of Mother’s Day – which the sailors remembered, taking and sending selfies to their Moms. With wind forecast from the west, at 12 to 16, the sailors were eager to get on the course and determine their fate.

Steele and Durant had already secured their spots in the semi-finals, but slots three and four were still up for grabs, with the final race of the double round robins to go. If Peter Holz foundered in his race against David Storrs, he could leave the door open for Christophe Killian, who was to square off against Durant; as well as Dave Hood and Charlie Lalumiere – who were waging their own sudden death battle.

Setting off on this sparkling California morning, several teams had a lot to gain, or lose.
In that final flight, beneath sunny blue skies, Holz defeated Storrs, while Hood extinguished Lalumiere, Durant beat Killian, and Steele triumphed over Poole; setting the stage for a hard-hitting finale.

The slate was wiped clean. Steele elected to race Hood, leaving Durant to duel with Holz. Steele defeated Hood 2-0; but Durant and Holz’ pairing was more tenuous, and they each won one race, before a winner-takes-all match that put Durant on top.

Durant had bowed to Scott Dickson in the LBYC sail-off for Congressional Cup yacht club representative; missing his chance for an automatic entry, but earning him a spot in the Ficker Cup, and another stab at a spot in the big event. Now his fighting spirit had kept him in the game – with the runner-up position in the Ficker Cup, and a slot in the Congressional Cup.

At the pier, Durant’s mother Pam was overjoyed, saying it was, “the best Mother’s Day gift ever” – particularly this year, as Durant’s father Bill is Congressional Cup Chairman.

At the dock, Durant admitted, “Obviously Peter Holz gave us a run there – we were nervous for sure.”

“But this whole event has been a learning experience; and we’re going to the Congressional Cup with that attitude. If we do well it’s good; if we don’t, it’s okay: we’ll be racing against the best guys, and we’ll learn something.”

Holz, a promising 22-year-old from Chicago, finished third, followed by LBYC Vice Commodore Dave Hood, fourth. Chris Poole didn’t go out quietly – he rallied to finish fifth, followed by Storrs, Killian and Lalumiere.

Steele and Durant will move on to compete against a who’s who of the world’s top-ranked skippers in the Congressional Cup next week, including current ISAF World Match Racing Champion and two-time Congressional Cup winner Ian Williams, GBR (ranked no. 1); defending Congressional Cup champion Taylor Canfield, ISV (no. 2); Eric Monnin, SUI (no. 4); Bjorn Hansen, SWE (no. 5); Joachim Aschenbrenner, DEN (no. 9); Keith Swinton, AUS (no. 10); Reuben Corbett, NZL (no. 12); Phil Robertson, NZL (no. 13); Przemeyslaw ‘Tara’ Tarnaki, POL (no. 26) and Scott Dickson, LBYC (no. 167).

The Congressional Cup represents a half century tradition at the highest level of sailboat racing in the world, and joins the prestigious 2015/16 World Match Racing Tour as the season-opener. The five day regatta, organized and hosted by LBYC, will be held May 13 to 17, 2015 in Long Beach, Calif.

Final scores for the round robins were: Steele, 12-2; Durant, 11-3; Holz, 8-6; Hood, 7-7; Killian, 6-8; Lalumiere; 6-8; Poole, 4-10; Storrs, 2-12.

For complete results click here.

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