Harold Cudmore may have to rethink his assertion that Eddie Owen is "the second best sailor in Britain."
In the gloomy last, desperate gasp of expiring wind off Long Beach Saturday, Owen coaxed his boat around the windward mark 59 seconds ahead of Robbie Haines to win the Congressional Cup, which Cudmore won last year.
It was a bizarre climax for the 23rd running of the world's most prestigious match racing series. The final race of the final day was shortened when race committee chairman Paul Frazier concluded that it would be impossible for the last two pairs--Dave Dellenbaugh-Chris Dickson and Owen-Haines--to sail two complete laps of the windward-leeward course.
As it was, two-time winner Dave Perry dropped his anchor three boat lengths from the finish line to avoid slipping backward in the current while waiting for a puff of wind to carry him across for a 1:09 win over John Shadden.
Dellenbaugh "finished" at the second leeward mark as Dickson, the America's Cup skipper of New Zealand's KZ7, went dead in the water 200 yards up the course, his spinnaker limp, before switching on his engine to go home.
Although a red small craft advisory flag was posted at the harbor master's office Saturday morning, the wind never exceeded 12 knots in the first race and 7 in the second, which was delayed for 1 1/2 hours when the wisps shifted 40 degrees to the south.
Those are the kind of conditions critics fear will prevail if Dennis Conner defends the America's Cup off San Diego in 1991.
Owen, the navigator and speed coordinator on Britain's White Crusader at Fremantle, Australia, said: "I think I would enjoy it. I don't think the public would. I just hope for the sake of the sport the America's Cup goes to someplace that has guaranteed wind. In very light winds it's very hard to match race. Once you're behind, the options available to you are very small."
The little Welshman proved a master at it this week, however, slipping quietly through a fleet of better known sailors with a clear-cut edge of 7 wins and 2 losses, bowing only to Perry and Dellenbaugh on Thursday.
Along the way, he and his crew from the America's Cup campaign dispatched Dickson, Iain Murray from Australia's Kookaburra III and Peter Isler, who was Conner's navigator on Stars & Stripes.
Owen represented his Holyhead Sailing Club from that village on the island of Anglesey in the north of Wales. He was Cudmore's choice to defend his title when the Irishman went on a Himalayan trek after running the America's Cup campaign.
Owen: "Harold said he'd like to see the second best sailor in Britain take his place. He said, 'The event is winnable.' I said, 'It must be, Harold, because you won it last year.' "
Cudmore was the first foreign sailor to win it, apparently launching a trend.
"Team racing and match racing are very important in the U.K.," Owen said, "and sailing the America's Cup with Harold taught me a lot.
"We had a lot of luck this week. You have to to win any regatta. But I'm a sailmaker by trade and I've always had this ability to make boats go quickly."
At Fremantle, Owen, 37, was part of the British afterguard with helmsman Chris Law and skipper Cudmore until Phil Crebbin replaced him for the third challenge round.
"I was glad to have Phil Crebbin come on the boat and have some tactical input," Owen said. "We weren't having a problem with speed."
Cudmore later assigned Owen to sail in the 12-meter consolation race among boats that failed to reach the semifinals, and he won. That and Owen's Congressional Cup success would seem to put him in position to steer Britain's next America's Cup boat.
"There are no guarantees," he said, "but I'd love to do it."
Congressional Cup Notes
Kookaburra III skipper Iain Murray of Australia finished at 2-7 with Barney Flam and Carl Buchan but lost to both of them. So while Eddie Owen took the crimson blazer, Murray collected the traditional, "Sail Your Boat Right" book that goes to the last-place skipper. . . . Peter Isler, John Shadden and Chris Dickson finished in an unbreakable tie for second at 6-3. . . . The wind shifted so severely just before it finally died that Robbie Haines raised his spinnaker for the last 100 yards to the windward mark as Owen frantically searched for wind to get around. "He was reaching and we were stuck," Owen said.