Competition for sailing's top prize is seven months and a hemisphere away, but a reasonable preview will blow into Long Beach this week.
As a tuneup for the America's Cup, the 22nd Congressional Cup lacks only an ugly trophy, the flies of Fremantle, millions of dollars worth of 12-meter technology--and most of the Americans.
For some America's Cup skippers, the Congressional not only is the world's premier match racing series but an important step in sharpening the specialized one-on-one tactics that will be tested Down Under.
But Rod Davis, the defending champion sailing for Newport Harbor Yacht Club's Eagle syndicate, is the only America's Cup skipper from the United States entered, although Peter Isler, helmsman for the Courageous group, will return as tactician for two-time champion Dave Perry.
Notably absent are Dennis Conner of Sail America and John Kolius of America II.
Davis, who also won the event in 1981, said: "If you're trying to prepare for the America's Cup, it's absolutely crazy not to sail in the Congressional Cup. It's a bonehead move for Kolius and Conner."
Six of the 10 sailors in the round-robin series of match races scheduled Wednesday through Saturday out of the Long Beach Yacht Club have been steering boats for various America's Cup syndicates. They will begin eliminations off Western Australia in October, leading to the final round between Australia's defender and the world's challenger starting Jan. 31, 1987.
The big difference here is that they'll all be in the same boats, production model Catalina 38s, tuned and equipped as equally as possible to put a premium on sailing skills. Crews will draw for boats and switch each day.
Conner preferred to spend the time testing and tuning alone in Hawaii. Although he won the Congressional in '73 and '75, he lost five of nine races last year, placing sixth overall.
Kolius withdrew after a temporary falling out with the New York Yacht Club. Tom Blackaller of Golden Gate Challenge and Buddy Melges of Heart of America weren't invited.
Blackaller has had an abrasive relationship with the host Long Beach club over the years and hasn't officially been designated as Golden Gate's skipper, anyway. Melges was overlooked because his Chicago YC campaign was not fully organized when the invitations went out last year, then had made other plans when openings developed.
Davis' stiffest competition should come from Australia's Colin Beashel and New Zealand's Chris Dickson, who finished 1-2 in last month's world 12-meter championships at Fremantle, and perhaps Perry, who won in 1983 and '84 and lost in a three-way sailoff with Davis and Kolius last year.
Perry may be rusty--or claim to be. He hasn't been campaigning seriously since the '84 Olympic soling trials, and Dave Dellenbaugh, formerly a key member of his crew, will be a competitor instead.
Davis, for that matter, will have only two of the six crewmen who won with him last year, tactician Doug Rastello and tailer Skip Beck. The others will be from his 12-meter group.
"I made the decision last fall," Davis said. "It might not be best way to win the Congressional Cup, but we're looking at a larger picture now."
Other foreign entries, all involved with America's Cup campaigns, are Great Britain's familiar Harold Cudmore, a seven-time entry; Canada's Terry McLaughlin and Italy's Flavio Scala.
Americans completing the field are first-time entries Steve Flam and Dave Dellenbaugh and third-time competitor Jack Gobbell.
Flam won the host club sailoff and Gobbell, sailing for Huntington Harbour YC, won the Ficker Cup qualifying event for the third straight year.
Dellenbaugh was invited as a late replacement for Kolius. He won the United States Yacht Racing Union's Prince of Wales match racing championship in '84 and defeated Perry in the Knickerbocker match racing series on Long Island Sound last year.
Gobbell, 1-8 in each of the last two events, and Flam seem to be outclassed in this field.
But Davis said: "We sailed with Jack Gobbell last weekend and he's real tough. I'd have to rate him as a spoiler in this. If you get behind him, he knows all the moves."
Gobbell is the only entrant who owns his own Catalina 38, although it isn't being used in the event.
Beashel, the mainsheet trimmer on Australia II in '83, was handed the helm of Alan Bond's new Australia III when John Bertrand retired after winning the America's Cup from Conner and Liberty at Newport, R.I.
After winning the world 12-meter championship in seven fleet races last month, he is the favorite to defend the cup for Australia next year.
Dickson, fourth in the '85 Congressional with a 5-4 record, later defeated Davis in the last race to win the similar Citizen's watch series at New Zealand.
McLaughlin, a latecomer to the True North Syndicate from Nova Scotia, also was a late Congressional entry. He replaced Yves Pajot of France, who failed to submit his required documents on time. McLaughlin was an Olympic silver medalist in the Flying Dutchman class.