It's been 135 years since the yacht America sailed home from England with an 8 1/2-pound trophy henceforth known as the America's Cup, and the British have been trying to get it back ever since.
They may finally be in the hunt. A victory in the 22nd Congressional Cup by Harold Cudmore of Ireland "will prove our credibility," he said.
Cudmore, who heads the United Kingdom's Crusader campaign under the burgee of the Royal Thames Yacht Club, defeated Dave Dellenbaugh of Darien, Conn., by 59 seconds in the final round of match racing off Long Beach Saturday. His week's record of seven wins and two losses topped a world-class sailing field that included five other America's Cup campaigners.
Two-time champion Dave Perry, sailing for the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club, also was 7-2 but lost to Cudmore in their match Friday.
It was Cudmore's seventh appearance in the Congressional which, like the America's Cup before Australia's victory in 1983, had been an American monopoly.
But if a foreigner was to win, there couldn't have been a more popular choice than the happy, curly haired Irishman from the Royal Cork Yacht Club.
In past years he has competed under the handicap of having to sail with local, unfamiliar crews, while delighting hosting Long Beach Yacht Club members with his jolly-good humor.
But this year be brought four of the six hands with him from his Crusader program: tactician Michel Meader, mastman Melvyn Coleman and trimmers David Woolner and Jerry Richards. He fleshed out the boat with an Australian, Philip Denson, and a Long Beach local, bowman Peter Frazier, "who I never met before this week, but who was fantastic," Cudmore said.
After all of them took a winners' dunking at the dock, Cudmore said: "In previous years I've come here just for amusement. This year I needed to win. We've got tremendous backing for our program, so sailing has become serious for me."
The support includes Prince Charles, who dropped in by helicopter last week to check out the Crusader operation, and Princess Diana, who named the boat.
Cudmore, 41, said he took up sailing seriously only in his 30s.
"I was a businessman," he said. "I took a year off to go sailing and never went back."
Significantly, Cudmore was 4-1 against the other America's Cup skippers in the event. He lost a protest of Friday's race with Australia's Colin Beashel but was beaten on the water only by defending champion Rod Davis, who skippers the Newport Harbor YC's Eagle campaign.
"We lost the America's Cup to a foreigner, and now we lose the Congressional Cup," Davis said with a smile. "What's sailing coming to?"
Davis tied for fifth at 5-4 with Beashel. Dellenbaugh, who crewed for Perry the previous three years, and New Zealand's Chris Dickson were 6-3, Canada's Terry McLaughlin and Long Beach's Steve Flam went 3-6, Huntington Harbour's Jack Gobbell finished 2-7 and Italy's Flavio Scala was 1-8.
Flam and Scala sailed the series' final race to determine last place and the traditional winner of the booby prize book by Arthur Knapp Jr., "Race Your Boat Right."
Scala might consult the chapter on spinnakers. Going downwind with Flam in 16-knot winds, with gusts to 24, he suddenly lost control of his Catalina 38, broached and tore the chute in two, trailing the top two-thirds from the top of his mast for the rest of the race.
While Cudmore had never won the Congressional, he had built a reputation as one of the top match racers with victories in similar, if less prestigious, events around the world.
A key to successful match racing is the start. At Long Beach he won five of his nine starts but was never more than six seconds behind in those he lost, and he was often in controlling position even when he didn't hit the line first.
Against Dellenbaugh he split to the right end of the line as Dellenbaugh went left, and when they met on opposite tacks a few minutes later Cudmore was in command.
"He was always in a controlling position," Dellenbaugh said.