In a series so stunning he still didn't quite believe it the morningafter it ended, Terry Hutchinson won the venerable Congressional Cup, which was sailed Monday through Thursday at Long Beach Yacht Club in Long Beach, Calif.
With his win in the prestigious regatta, a major event of the international Omega Grand Prix match racing series and often called the grandfather of match racing, Hutchinson, 24, became the youngest skipper to win the Congressional Cup in the event's 26-year history.
Sailing with Hutchinson were Dave "Moose" McClintock, Ed Reynolds, Mitch Brinley, Bruce Lockwood, Ralph Fisher and Mark Snyder.
Theregatta, commonly regarded as a significant rung on the ladder to the America's Cup, was sailed in closely matched Catalina 37s and consisted of a nine-race round-robin series among the 10 competitors. It was followed by a semifinal round between the second- and third-place finishers in the round robin and a best-two-of-three contest for the final title between the first-placer from the round robin and the winner of the semifinal.
A two-time College Sailor of the Year and winner of many important titles in J/24s and other classes, Hutchinson,son of Mr. and Mrs. Philip A. Hutchinson Jr. of Harwood, has deep roots here in the county, where he learned to sail in local junior programs. He currently lives in Traverse City, Mich., where he is associated with Shore Sails Great Lakes.
Although Hutchinson's sailing accomplishments are many, his previous experience in the unique and highly specialized art of match racing was limited to a single regatta, last year's Ficker Cup, which he won to qualify for a slot at the Congressional.
As opposed to the more familiar fleet racing, match racing "is different but at the same time it's not," Hutchinson said, "because it's still a sailboat race. But you know real quick if you'rewinning or losing. The big difference was mental for us. The pressure was really on for every race."
Hutchinson said conditions at Long Beach were generally light through the week, with no breeze exceeding 12 knots and light stuff in the 4- to 5-knot range relatively common.
Hutchinson was a powerful presence in Long Beach from the start, and beat both Australian Gordon Lucas and past J/24 and Soling World Champion John Kostecki of San Francisco in the opening two flights, although he lost the day's final contest to French America's Cup sailor Bertrand Pace.
At day's end, with a score of 2-1, Hutchinson was tied for first with Kostecki, Pace, Soling Olympic gold medalist Robbie Haines of Newport Beach, Calif., and Chris Law, British America's Cup skipper, Soling World Champion and four-time Olympian.
It was heady company for the match racing newcomer, but with Tuesday's four flights Hutchinson's overall performance surpassed his first day's achievements.
After beating J/24 World Champion and Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Larry Klein of San Diego, Swedish America's Cup skipper and Star World Champion Pelle Petterson, Haines and Law, at the end of the seventh flight of the round robin and the day's racing on Tuesday, Hutchinson was alone at the top of the 10-boat fleet with a score of 6-1. Haines, Pace, and Spanish America's Cup skipper and 3/4 Ton World Champion Pedro Campos were tied for second at 5-2, and Kostecki at 4-3 and Law at 3-4 had fallen to fifth and sixth.
With onlyLBYC's defender, Steve Steiner, and Campos still to go on his dance card for Thursday, the possibility that Hutchinson might win the regatta became very real. Even after the eighth flight, which he won overSteiner, Hutchinson still was the only sailor in the pack with no more than a single defeat on his record, although Campos, Pace, and Haines were still tied up in second at 6-2, very close behind.
The light-air last race of the round robin threw everything into turmoil, however, when Hutchinson lost to Campos while Pace and Haines won their respective matches.
"Going against Pedro, he was just a little faster in the light air," Hutchinson said.
The result was a four-way tie between Hutchinson, Campos, Pace and Haines for first place.
After searching their rule books for guidance on how to break the tie, the race committee moved Hutchinson to third behind Campos, now ranked first, and Pace, ranked second, since Hutchinson had lost his round-robin races to them. Haines, whom Hutchinson had beaten in the round robin, was fourth.
"All the races were really close," Hutchinson said. "In at least half of our races we didn't lead at the weathermark and had to pass boats downwind, which is not bad, since when you come around a mark close behind the other guy you actually have an advantage. We beat Robbie Haines by three feet, and it turned out that that race made the difference, because if we hadn't beaten him, we would never have gotten into the semifinal."
Hutchinson faced Paceagain Thursday, but this time he beat him, earning the right to challenge Campos in the final.