Chris Poole (USA) and Riptide Racing swept the Long Beach Yacht Club Congressional Cup, sailing undefeated in five days of thrilling competition. Jeppe Borch (DEN) finished second, Nick Egnot-Johnson (NZL) third.
The Congressional Cup – a Grade One match race and World Match Racing Tour event, hosted annually by Long Beach Yacht Club since 1965 – wrapped up in the waters off the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier after five days of picture-postcard weather; over one hundred rousing, exacting matches; 10 of the world’s top ranked match racing skippers and one victor. The final score: 24-0.
For decades the most talented sailors from around the globe have convened to compete in this prestigious one-design match race regatta. And no-one can recall a time in history that any skipper has won every single match. Until now.
“I’m still in disbelief that we sailed the perfect regatta: I don’t think it gets any better than that,” said Poole, who claimed victory in his fifth attempt at the Congressional Cup trophy. “To be a part of the winner’s circle of this event, at this club, is an incredible honor. It’s the only Grade One in the U.S. and one of the most historic match races in the world.”
Sailing with Poole, under the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club burgee, were Matt Cornwell, Luke Payne, Malcolm Parker, Bernardo Freitas, and tactician Joachim Aschenbrenner.
World Sailing ranks Poole as the number one match racing skipper in the world. But a Congressional Cup title has evaded him in a decade of trying. Poole first arrived at LBYC in 2013 where he finished seventh in the Ficker Cup. He was remembered by some as an over-eager, even abrasive, 24-year-old. “When he first came to LBYC he would yell and scream at everybody,” chuckled Bob Piercy, Chairman of the 2023 Congressional Cup. “I’ve watched Chris mature over the years to where he is now: so polite, cool and collected. It’s been a treat to watch that evolve.”
“And this whole season, almost everywhere he went, he seemed to be coming out on top,” Piercy added. “As the 2022 winner of the Grand Slam series his was my first invitation to the 2023 Congressional Cup. I got the letter out that evening: my only regret was I didn’t get to hand it to him in person. And now this result: it’s amazing!”
In fact Long Beach Yacht Club and Congressional Cup take some pride in Poole’s metamorphosis. This event is more family and fraternity, than callous rivalry. “I’ve definitely enjoyed this journey, from my first Ficker Cup 10 years ago,” Poole said. “And 2019 was a pivotal year for me, a big shift and a big evolution, and that has kept progressing.” Finishing third in 2022, he vowed to return to ‘finish what they started last year,’ adding, “I would love to have a Crimson Blazer,” – an icon similar to the green jacket at The Masters.
Donning that sport coat at the prizegiving, to a standing ovation, Poole choked up. “To sail a perfect regatta, and at this event, is truly a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s a humbling experience.”
At this high level of competition, it’s nearly unheard of to have one team dominate the entire event. “This was just a phenomenal effort by Chris Poole and Riptide Racing,” said James Pleasance, Executive Director of the World Match Racing Tour. “He’s been working on this tour a number of years and done a load of events, getting better and better. I’m so pleased for him to get a win of a tour event, in his home country, and one as prestigious as the Congressional Cup. And to go undefeated the whole way through is a testament to his work, his crew’s work, and everything he’s put into this: the effort and time and travel. What an amazing achievement!”
Today’s racing took place after a two-hour postponement, with the first match commencing in six knots of wind from the southwest. The breeze was light but not the action. Egnot-Johnson had slipped into the semifinals in a tiebreaker with Eric Monnin (SUI) and bowed to Borch in yesterday’s semis. Squaring off against Ian Williams (GBR) in today’s first match of the petit final, Egnot-Johnson trailed Williams around the course. Splitting on the downwind leg, they approached the finish line on opposite boards. Out of the blue came the Kiwis, sailing a hotter angle, to capture the first win. They would see victory in the second match as well, to secure bronze in the 2023 Congressional Cup.
Poole and Borch’s matches started fiery as well. Within seconds of entering the box Poole had a protest on Borch. Spinnakers up and down, picking their way through the spectator fleet … Poole was off the line precisely with Borch astern. Poole took the first match with seeming ease.
In the second match Borch returned the favor, delivering Poole a penalty in the prestart. It was immaterial. Riptide Racing was smoother, faster, higher, from pole to pole. Between races the teams had even swapped boats – a custom fleet of Catalina 37s – to guarantee evenness. Poole dispensed swift justice in all three matches to take the victory in the final.
“It’s been a great week for us and the boys have showed they can really be at the top level of the sport,” said 25-year-old Borch, whose second-place finish in his second Congressional Cup appearance was impressive. “Chris Poole and his team were amazing: they had the speed, they had the tactics, and we just didn’t have an answer for them today. But that’s why we’re here, to get beaten sometimes so we can learn a thing or two and then we can come back stronger.”
Third place Egnot-Johnson declared, “What an amazing feeling it is to make it on the podium! This has been a most amazing week for us; we are so stoked to be here.”
As a traditional consolation event for the six teams who didn’t make the semifinals LBYC holds a fleet race: a scenic sail around Long Beach harbor, with prize money at the end. In light zephyrs and bright sunshine, with Lionel Ritchie warbling from speakers on the pier where hundreds of spectators had gathered, Eric Monnin (SUI) graced across the finish line of that race with a handsome lead. Megan Thomson (NZL) and Johnie Berntsson (SWE) followed second and third.
As much as the world-class competition and dedication to race management is the hallmark of Congressional Cup, the event is not just about the on-the-water matches. It’s the venue. It’s the yacht club. It’s the people.
An army of over 300 volunteers pitch in to make the Congressional Cup a success each year. “My job is easy because of all the volunteers who so generously donate their time, year after year, to make this one of the most remarkable, sought-after events on the circuit,” said Piercy.
Congressional Cup is like an all-inclusive vacation (with the addition of competition) for sailors. LBYC club members accommodate racers and officials in their homes. Meals, transport and encouragement are provided, friendships form. It’s a holistic approach to the sport, from post-race massages to family-style dinners to the Junior Congressional Cup: which pairs up LBYC Junior sailors with Congressional Cup skippers for fun but serious CFJ racing on the bay. The warmth and welcome are legendary.
“I’ve felt spoiled, honestly spoiled, during my time at LBYC,” said Megan Thomson (NZL) whose second-place finish in Ficker Cup qualified her for Congressional Cup. “Seriously I’ve had a blast!”
“LBYC has been fantastic as usual,” added Poole. “Everyone loves to race here: the conditions are phenomenal and the hospitality, parties, are second to none. We have never come here and not had a great time.”
Harry Price (AUS) even gave a shout-out to ‘Larry the Bagel guy’ – one of the servers at the lavish breakfast buffet offered each morning. It is a home-away-from-home for the participants who come each year, making it the most coveted regatta in the world.