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CONGRESSIONAL CUP

Drive Time for Holmberg as Oracle Helmsman

April 09, 2002|PETE THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Peter Holmberg breezed into Long Beach this week on top of the sailing world, bringing along a newly earned No. 1 ranking and news that he'll be the "primary helmsman" during Oracle Racing's America's Cup 2003 campaign.

"I'm not going to pull strings, that's for sure," said Holmberg, 41, of the U.S. Virgin Islands. "I've been a driver now for the last year for Oracle--we've had a few of them. But now they're focusing on me as the driver, although there has been nothing officially announced."

Holmberg is among several of the world's top sailors who will compete in the 38th Congressional Cup, hosted by the Long Beach Yacht Club, which begins today and runs through Saturday at the Long Beach outer harbor near Belmont Pier. Racing will begin daily at noon, weather permitting. Seven of the 10 skippers are involved in America's Cup campaigns, including Ken Read with Team Dennis Conner and Rod Davis and Gavin Brady with Italy's Prada.

None, however, has been riding the wind quite like Holmberg, winner of the last two Swedish Match Tour events and three of the last four Congressional Cups. Holmberg attained the world's top ranking after his most recent triumph, three weeks ago during the Steinlager/Line 7 Cup at Auckland, New Zealand.

Holmberg was quick to credit his crew of five--Mike Sanderson (mainsail), Robbie Naismith (trim), Graham Fleury (pit), Brad Webb (bow) and John Cutler (tactician). All are from New Zealand and will add a Kiwi flavor to a U.S. crew of 16 that, beginning in the fall, will compete for the right to challenge defending champion Team New Zealand for the America's Cup.

Holmberg might not be at the helm were it not for recent events beyond his control. Also on the Oracle team are renowned skippers Paul Cayard and Chris Dickson. Each has been at the helm during three America's Cups, but their domineering styles didn't sit well with Oracle chairman and racing team owner Larry Ellison. Both, in essence, have been kicked off the boat and relegated to other team duties.

"Larry wants this to be a team campaign and I think that Paul, through no fault of his own--he's just a natural born leader--just happened to walk a little differently than Larry wanted him to," Holmberg explained. "As for Chris, he's just a fiery figure and he clashed with the team a few times--which was one time too many--so the decision was made to take him aside as well."

An Oracle Racing spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

In the Congressional Cup's double round-robin format, 10 teams will sail Catalina 37s, with the top four advancing to Saturday's best-of-three semifinals, to be followed immediately by the best-of-three championship finals.

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