Some of the world's best sailors competing for one of their sport's most coveted prizes in family racer-cruiser boats may seem as incongruous as contesting the Indianapolis 500 in station wagons.
But that's the way it has always been in the Congressional Cup regatta at the Long Beach Yacht Club, where 10 Catalina 38s are docked in a row for the start of the silver anniversary event today.
Ask the skippers about sailing a C-38 at this level of competition and most of them roll their eyes.
"It will be tough getting used to it again, not accelerating out of tacks, not responding right away to things you want to do," said two-time winner Rod Davis.
The other events along the world match racing circuit use slightly smaller, more nimble boats. The Congressional uses C-38s because no other medium-sized keelboat as easily adaptable for equalization seems as available for loan from local owners.
That could change. The wave of the future may be parked in a slip on the other side of the docks. It's also from Catalina Yachts in Woodland Hills, but the Catalina 37 One Design represents the firm's first departure from sturdy, durable all-purpose keelboats into a racing craft.
Catalina President Frank Butler sent it down for display and a demo sail this week. It has a flush deck and roomy center cockpit for the crew, with the helmsman at a wheel aft. It was drawing lots of admirers.
"It's very fast out of a tack," Butler said. "This one really gets out and moves. It's very easy to sail."
It won't be any good for the Transpacific or the downwind Mexican races. It won't even be any good for overnight excursions, such as Catalina on a weekend. The only instrument will be a compass, and the stripped-out cabin is good only for stowing extra sails. Butler and chief engineer Jerry Douglas designed it strictly to sail around tight buoy courses against other Catalina 37s.
Butler recognizes that despite extraordinary efforts with the C-38s by the Congressional Cup organizers, it's difficult to thoroughly equalize boats that have been in the hands of private owners. The C-37s are meant to be raced exactly as built, with no modifications allowed.
Only one prototype has been built, although Butler said he plans to go into full production in late April or May.
The question is: who's going to buy it?
"We have a lot of people that \o7 say \f7 they're gonna buy it," Butler said. "Different areas back east have asked about them."
The price, he said, will be less than that of a C-38 and a lot less than the comparable J-35s or Schock 35s.
"If we can come out under $50,000, we will," he said.
His hope is that local yacht clubs will buy one or two apiece and use them for local one-design or match-racing events throughout the year, not just for the Congressional Cup.
"It's a pipe dream," says Heinz Fischer, whose C-38 Basilea is one of the boats being used for this 25th Congressional Cup. "What difference does it make what kind of boats they're sailing, if they're all sailing the same kind of boats?"
The difference is a fear by some that the Congressional--first of the match-racing classics--has fallen behind the others in technology. Western Australia already has a custom fleet, financed by the government, and New Zealand plans to build one with private backing. Japan has boats and is soliciting 28 corporations for $1 million each to fund its own national match-racing circuit.
Hal Lane of Long Beach, president of the World Match Racing Conference, said, "The new boat is needed, that's for sure."
Lane also said he would like to standardize the formats for the 10 events--the Congressional is the only one that sails only a fixed number of rounds, without a climactic round of finalists--and establish a formula for inviting competitors, balancing top veterans with emerging prospects.
"It's a very difficult problem," Lane said. "Each of the events retains the right to invite whomever it wants."