Congressional Cup : Davis Shows He Can Win With the Pressure Off

Times Staff Writer

Rod Davis was concerned before the anti-climactic windup of the 25th Congressional Cup Saturday.

Davis, an American sailing for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, had already clinched an unprecedented third championship in sailing’s premier match-racing series Friday but wanted to win with a 9-0 flourish, as he had in 1981.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it goes with the pressure off,” he said on the way out to the race course.

Davis and his all-New Zealand crew came from behind to defeat a surprisingly competitive Makoto Namba of Japan by 1 minute, 11 seconds in his first race, then broke away to win a dogfight with two-time Congressional winner Dave Perry by 52 seconds.


With Davis as the skipper, New Zealand finished second in last December’s World Cup of Match Racing and won January’s Chinatel Cup that opened the World Cup match-racing series of 10 events. Davis will switch positions with tactician David Barnes in subsequent events, which are geared toward the next America’s Cup.

Saturday they drew Basilea from the fleet of racer-cruiser Catalina 38s. Some observers had suspected Basilea, owned by Drs. Heinz and Janice Fischer, was not the pride of the fleet, having won one of five races with other crews the first two days.

But Basilea had no trouble winning with Australia’s Peter Gilmour and Davis, who won all four of their races with Basilea the next two days.

The mood is light leaving the bay, Davis and his crew teasing each other. Besides Davis and Barnes, there are bowman Alan Smith, jib tailer Don Cowie, mastman Dennis Kendall, grinder Grant Loretz and jib trimmer Mark Hauser.


But as they approach the race course, Davis orders, “OK, gentlemen, (raise the) mainsail,” and six bodies snap into action.

Then, when a gun fires to signal the prestart countdown, the banter stops, and the mood turns serious.

With 10 minutes remaining and the wind blowing only 5 knots, Davis and Namba steer their boats toward each other from opposite ends of the line to begin the tight circling maneuvers that will leave one with an advantage at the start.

Advantage: Namba.

“Won’t be able to go this way long, David,” Davis says to Barnes as he finds himself in Namba’s backwind soon after the start. “How much damage is he doing us?”

“Good breeze on the right,” Barnes says.

Although a note of urgency occasionally creeps into Davis’ voice, he never yells. He mostly talks in a conversational tone.

Upwind, Loretz and Smith, sitting on the weather rail, offer constant input to Davis about wind and wave conditions.


“Stand by,” Davis says, alerting the crew he is about to tack. “Here we go.”

He turns the wheel slowly and Basilea groans over to port tack.

The duel continues, with Namba leading at the first mark. Downwind under spinnaker, Davis trails by three to four boat lengths until near the end of the 1 1/2-mile run when he starts to close. Soon he is in position to jibe onto Namba’s wind and quickly pulls alongside.

Then it is just a matter of time until he rolls past the Japanese, rounds the leeward mark three lengths in front and continues to stretch his lead to the finish.

The mood eases again as the crew awaits its match against Perry, the last of the day.

Then: “Jib up,” Davis says, and it’s all business again.

Perry, a longtime adversary, was the first rival to leave his own boat to congratulate Davis after Friday’s clinchers, but he isn’t conceding anything on Saturday.

The prestart maneuvering is furious, as Davis and Perry exchange subtle smiles for momentary triumphs. At the start Davis has a slight edge and tells Barnes he thinks the wind is more favorable on the right side of the course.


They lead Perry by two lengths at the windward mark, and halfway down the leg Perry is alongside, only 12 feet away, the boats surfing in 15 knots of wind.

Davis is controlling the inside position for the leeward mark, but Perry yells over, “Mast line! Mast line!"--meaning he has moved just far enough in front that Davis no longer has the right of way.

“Don’t hit me, Rod,” Perry says.

“Just sail a proper course, Dave,” Davis replies--meaning the fastest, but not necessarily the most direct, course to the mark.

“I trust you, Rod,” Perry says, “but I don’t know why.”

Davis rounds first and lengthens his lead slightly throughout the race.

Congressional Cup Notes

Defending champion Peter Gilmour of Australia won his last five races to finish second at 7-2--and his last victory over Anaheim’s John Bertrand (5-4), sailing for the St. Francis Yacht club, was remarkable. The on-the-water judges cited Gilmour for two fouls after prestart collisions, so Gilmour had to perform two 270-degree penalty turns after the start but still won by 21 seconds. . . . Japan’s Makoto Namba (3-6) defeated Long Beach’s John Shadden (5-4) by three seconds, the closest finish of the week. “This is the best I’ve seen the Japanese sail,” Davis said. . . . San Diego’s Peter Isler (6-3) was alone in third place. The last-place tie between Connecticut’s Bill Lynn and Long Beach’s Steve Steiner (1-8) was broken by Lynn’s win over Steiner on Wednesday.