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America's Cup: New Challenger from home of Matchracing

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 12 Dec 2018 13:00 PST 12 May 2018
Taylor Canfield hold the winners cheque for the 2018 Congressional Cup. Mike Buckley issecond from right © Bronny Daniels

The second US team now accepted as a Challenger for the America's Cup has been working on a challenge for over a year - predating Emirates Team New Zealand's win in Bermuda on June 26, 2017.

"About a year ago, or maybe a little more, Taylor Canfield and I were approached and told that if another team won the America's Cup, then you guys should put together a Challenge. That put the idea in our heads, and when Team New Zealand won in Bermuda, it opened the door to mount a Challenge of our own, " explained Mike Buckley one of Taylor Canfield's crew in the the latest America's Cup Challenge to be announced. Buckley has been heavily involved in setting up the team formerly known as Team USA 21. They are one of two crews who are four-time winners of the Congressional Cup, one of the most prestigious trophies in match racing.

Buckley is an American professional sailor competing in a variety of keelboats ranging from Melges 24's to TP52's in Match and Fleet racing. This year he joined Taylor Canfield's team on the World Match Racing Tour." I studied business at university, and have a passion for business and marketing as well as a passion for high-end sailing, he told Sail-World NZ in May this year when the team first emerged.

Taylor Canfield (29) is the hottest property in match racing on a global basis, being the winner of the World Match Racing Tour in 2013 and finishing runner-up in two others in a four year period both sailing keelboats and the M32 multihulls. Add to that four Congressional Cup wins and there's a record that few if any can match.

Outwardly, Mike Buckley deliberately kept Canfield's at arms length from the Challenge, preferring to keep his longtime friend's options open. But the reality is that the two were always working jointly on the Challenge all along.

Formerly operating under the moniker of Team USA 21, the team is now known as Stars & Stripes Team USA - the familiar team name of Dennis Conner, still "Mr America's Cup" - a four time winner of the America's Cup.

Conner was also known as the first US helmsman to not successfully defend the America's Cup - losing to the John Bertrand skippered Australia II in 1983.

Instead of his head replacing the America's Cup on the vacant stand in the New York Club, Conner bounced back and became the first skipper to win back the oldest trophy in international sport.

Publicly Canfield's star, for some time, was not been directly attached to the new America's Cup challenger. "That was me keeping his options open," Buckley laughs. "He's one of my best friends, and I wasn't in a position to out him in one way or another, and we've kept him neutral for the time being. We started this together a long time ago. In my eyes, he is the best American helmsman out there, and our intention is to work together - but he has to answer the tough questions himself."

While Buckley described the then Team USA 21 [the "21" was shorthand for 2021, the year of the 36th America's Cup] as a startup group back in May 2018, he was quick to point out that they haven't started an empty tank. "Our goal is to build a group of diverse, passionate individuals who are all-American, including sailors, engineers and innovators and bring our country to the America's Cup to compete and make them proud.

"To me the draw of the America's Cup is to watch a country of sailors, compete against another countries sailors. That it is was designed to do - that's what Team NZ does, as does Luna Rossa, and Ben Ainslie's team. I think all the sailors on those teams really identify strongly with the countries they represent. They are all team guys and they all fight for each other.

At that stage the team had been active for eight months, with Buckley doubling his role as America's Cup team organiser with continuing to sail in a series of world championships and similar events with and without Taylor Canfield.

"We've had feelers out for eight months for funding partners and to be able to put the right people together for the design team. We also need to find the right yacht club and the right location," he adds.

"Our story is that we are a group of sailors, innovators, technology leaders who want to make sure America is out in front in the world of sports technology and sport. It comes at a perfect time in our country where we are very pro-America and trying to compete with the world on technology,", he told Sail-World back in May..

"Obviously the world has caught up to America, and that is great for the world. We have seen some re-organisation in America over the past few years - how do we get car manufacturing back here? How do we get aircraft manufacture back here? How do we get the tech back here? This challenge fits into that story and discussion."

In this year's Congressional Cup, the now Stars & Stripes Team USA, had their first brush with the first USA team to Challenge for the 36th America's Cup - American Magic from the venerable New York Yacht Club. Canfield and his crew were up against American Magic's crew including six time America's Cup campaign helmsman, Dean Barker (NZL)

Taylor Canfield and his crew staged a come from behind win to take the prestigious trophy which really marks the beginning of match racing as a mainstream sailing activity. The New York Yacht Clubs shadow America's Cup team had dominated the event for the first four days and looked set to win the trophy almost as a formality on the final day.

Sailing against former Team New Zealand, Softbank Team Japan skipper, and now American Magic skipper, Dean Barker, a veteran of five America's Cups, Taylor Canfield took out the final in three straight races.

"When we won the Congressional Cup, it was the first time in at least 15 years that the Cup had been won by an all-American team, " Buckley told Sail-World NZ.

Since then the team has been on the hunt for a yacht club that would support their America's Cup campaign before forming an association with the Long Beach yacht Club, the host club for the Congressional Cup and the Cup credited with giving birth to the sport of Match Racing.

Back in May, Buckley said their new team would be organised along the lines of Emirates Team New Zealand.

"To us, that is the model - it's why Team New Zealand has been so good for so long. New Zealand is a fraction of the size and with a fraction of the resources of the USA and they get all New Zealand behind them.

"It's fantastic what Grant and those before him have done there, and that's what we are after. It's definitely feasible to do the same with Stars & Stripes Team USA"

Buckley told Sail-World NZ back in may that they have done their budgets around a two AC-75 campaign and and despite being a late entry, already have the construction of their first AC75 underway.

A full interview with Mike Buckley and Taylor Canfield will be published in Sail-World.com today

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