In the lead up to the season opening event of the 2014 Alpari World Match Racing Tour in Germany, we catch up with defending ISAF Match Racing World Champion Taylor Canfield on his preparations for the 2014 World Tour.
In early 2013 Taylor Canfield was announced as one of the new Tour Card holders for the Alpari World Match Racing Tour. The young US Virgin Islander had caught people’s attention when he had made the most of his Wild Card opportunities in late 2012, winning the Argo Group Gold Cup in Bermuda and the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia.
It’s one thing to win a Tour event, or two, but quite another to string together a whole season and win the World Championship of match racing at your first attempt. Canfield would crumple under the pressure, some said. By the end of 2013, however, the 24-year-old had silenced all doubters as, having lost to Phil Robertson in the semi-finals of the Monsoon Cup, he saw the 26-year-old Kiwi continue his unstoppable run of form to snuff out Ian Williams’ hopes of a record fifth world title in the final of the final event. It was one of the closest finishes in the history of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, with Canfield narrowly beating Williams in the overall season rankings.
Now we get the chance to see if Canfield can successfully defend his world title in 2014. With a pre-Tour win at the prestigious Congressional Cup in California in April, he starts as most people’s favourite for the Tour in 2014. The man he beat at Long Beach was none other than Williams. It seems to be shaping up as the great rivalry of match racing in modern times. 'I guess people like to see it that way,' says Canfield. 'For sure Ian is a very accomplished sailor, at the top of his game, one of the best we’ve seen in the sport.'
Taylor Canfield named Virgin Islands Sailor of the Year for 2013 by Phillip Shannon, President of the Virgin Islands Sailing Association - Dean Barnes
Williams repays the compliment when asked what makes Canfield tick. 'I don’t think there is any magic to it, he is just sailing well. He sails the boat pretty smoothly and he keeps the boat fast, particularly in the light airs - he seems to be able to keep the speed on the boat, just because he is a good sailor and he’s got a good team. That’s where we’ll need to step our game up. For sure as he gains experience he’ll only get stronger so we are going to have to keep up the pressure if we are going to get the title back.'
As equal as they are in their match racing abilities, their means of getting to that point couldn’t be more different, according to Canfield. 'Ian is very analytical, he looks at every part of the game in great detail, and he takes it very seriously. He knows the points situation going into every event, but we take a bit more of a relaxed approach. We take it race by race, just focus on the next match and do the best you can do. That’s the mentality I have always had going into sailing, whatever kind it is.' It seems to serve him well, with Canfield showing an amazing knack of bouncing back from seemingly impossible situations.
The Congressional Cup was the first match race event Canfield has done since last November’s Monsoon Cup and it was a good opportunity to check in with his USone team, unchanged from last year, and the opposition before the start of the Tour in June. Funnily enough he has spent most of the winter in Florida sailing with Ian Williams’ match racing tactician Bill Hardesty in the Etchells 22 keelboat. Hardesty is already a two-time world champion in the highly competitive international keelboat class, and is looking to win his third title with Canfield calling tactics and working the mainsheet next to him. 'I wasn’t too sure how we would get along with Bill,' says Canfield, 'but it’s been running pretty smoothly. He’s been great at getting me into the Etchells class, which is really technical. Early on I had my head in the boat too much, or looking up at the sails trying to work it all out, and missing some big tactical calls, but I’m getting used to it.'
Canfield made a conscious decision to break into the professional racing scene of small keelboats like Etchells and the Melges classes, and so resigned from his role of sailing director at the Chicago Match Race Center at the end of 2013. Canfield hasn’t forgotten the debt he owes the Center, however, as it’s that intensive two years of being steeped in match racing, week in and week out, that he believes enabled him to climb up the match racing world rankings so quickly. 'It’s not that I was even doing that much of my own racing,' he says, 'but being involved at all levels, just watching and observing the amount of racing that went on at the Center really helped my game.'
Now Jordan Reece has taken over Canfield’s job in Chicago, and it will be interesting to see what progress the young Aussie match racer will make from working in this role, which must be unique in the sailing world. Meanwhile, how will Canfield’s venture into big fleet keelboat racing work out for him as he steps back into the one-on-one of match racing? Well, the Congressional Cup victory bodes well, and he retains the same USone crew that pushed him to victory in 2013. Trimmers Dan Morris and Mike Rehe, along with bowman Hayden Goodrick and tactician Rod Dawson have a good chemistry on board. Kiwi Dawson, 20 years older than Canfield to the day, provides the experience, having won three world titles with Peter Gilmour before winning his fourth last year with USone. But with their first world title out of the way, all of Canfield’s crew now know what it takes to win, and they could be even harder to beat in 2014.
The 2014 championship gets underway at Match Race Germany on 5 June. The Alpari World Match Racing Tour is one of five special events sanctioned under the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) including America's Cup, the Volvo Ocean Race, the Extreme Sailing Series and the PWA World Tour. WMRT website