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America's Cup: Stars & Stripes gets a new life with Long Beach team

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World NZ 13 Dec 2018 01:56 PST 13 December 2018

Auckland and indeed America's Cup fans around the world will once again see the Stars & Stripes team contest the most prestigious trophy in Sailing.

One of Sailing's most revered boat names, Stars & Stripes became synonymous with "Mr America's Cup", Dennis Conner, after he led a superbly organised campaign to became the first skipper to win back the America's Cup in 1987. The win in Fremantle at arguably the best America's Cup ever, marked the second half of Conner's America's Cup career.

His final hurrah to the Auld Mug, was in Auckland in 2003, when Stars & Stripes, helmed by Ken Read was eliminated after the Quarter Final Repechage. Conner was part of her afterguard. And ironically so too was Terry Hutchinson, now back 18 years later as skipper of the second US Challenger in the 2021 America's Cup Regatta.

Conner, a four times America's Cup winner won't be aboard the newly announced US Challenger's foiling AC75 monohull in the summer of 2020/21 in Auckland. But there are many similarities between the new Long Beach Yacht Club team and Conner's last six America's Cup campaigns sailed under the burgee of the San Diego Yacht Club.

Along with a group of loyal friends, Conner conceived the commercially sponsored US team approach to fund his Fremantle campaign - turning the Stars & Stripes name into a brand synonymous with American excellence. He continued the very commercial approach eschewing the influence of the billionaires, and lauding the assistance of his commercial sponsors and private donors.

"When Taylor and I started this project about 18 months ago I started doing a lot of research into the USA's involvement in past America's Cups. Obviously, Dennis is an icon. What I found missing was an authentic story.

"We went and had lunch with Dennis a month or so ago," explains Mike Buckley, who along with top match racing skipper, Taylor Canfield heads the sailor-led Challenge announced Wednesday in the name of the Long Beach Yacht Club.

"We floated some ideas past him, and asked for his advice. What was supposed to be a short lunch turned into a lovely couple of hours of just back and forth. I will never forget sitting there with Dennis Conner - someone who has paved the way for Sailing in general."

At the end of the lunch, Buckley popped the question to the living legend. "He gave us his blessing to use his former boat name. I assured him we would do everything we could to make him proud. He responded with his congratulations and wished us good luck."

Although Conner will not have a formal role in the Californian team, Buckley said they’d welcome his advice. "If he can answer a question or two - now and then - we'll take it because he is a wealth of knowledge," Buckley added.

Despite having been out of the America's Cup for 15 years, the fan reaction today to the rejuvenated Stars & Stripes campaign demonstrated that the name of the great team had lost little of its old pull.

Match Racing champion to step up

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

Mike 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," explaining his attributes.

"Authentic" is a word that both Canfield and Buckley drop regularly into the conversation to explain the ethos of the young team. In a previous interview, conducted in May this year, Buckley describes it this way:

"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.

"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."

"Our team has a story, which people want to hear right now, and that is incredibly humbling for us."

The Stars & Stripes ethos, both in Conner's and present day, establishes a clear point of difference between recent US-flagged America's Cup teams which were essentially billionaire backed, multi-national programs,and with a decreasing number of US sailors.

"USA pride and excellence is the core value of our team," says Buckley.

"Without a doubt" is his succinct answer to a question as to whether the crew will be all US nationals.

Beyond that he won't comment, deferring to the public launch in early 2019 for the detail. "We are certainly evaluating talent and getting people on board as we speak, " he adds.

"America certainly has the talent. The reality is that past Cups have not really tapped into the American talent inherent in the next generation. For instance, Taylor [Canfield] has been ranked #1 in the world in match racing for three out of the last five years", Buckley notes.

"I couldn't think of anyone else in the world that I would rather co-found this team with than Taylor."

"We know we have our work cut out for us to find great sailors and athletes, but we certainly believe we can do that,' Buckley adds.

Relieved to see AC75 concept proven

The team already has an AC75 under construction in Michigan. It is a hybrid from a design package by Emirates Team New Zealand, modified by the Stars & Stripes' design team headed up by JB Braun, formerly Director of Design and Engineering at North Sails, and previously a senior member of the design team at Oracle Team USA for their 2013 and 2017 America's Cup campaigns.

With his foiling experience limited to the GC32 circuit, Taylor Canfield admits he was "a little sceptical of the 75ft foiling monohull concept, and how it was all going to work."

"It was great to see the test boats from INEOS Team UK and American Magic, proving the foiling monohull concept. I think it is a great opportunity for some new teams to get involved - starting on something of a fresh slate. I'm very excited to be able to do some more foiling, and also to be able to combine that with my match-racing experience."

Like many in the sailing world, Canfield says he initially took a "wait and see" approach with the AC75 surrogate boats sailed by the British and New York YC teams. "To see those boats up and already doing manoeuvres was incredible. We were planning on entering the Cup anyway at that point, so it was good the see the concept up and going, and going well - so far."

Elaborating on his previous foiling experience, Canfield explains that he sailed in the Extreme Sailing Series in 2016. He's also made a trip down to New Zealand to sail in the F50's with the United States SailGP Team. I'm going to do some more Moth sailing, GC32's and any foiling platforms we can get onto."

Expanding on the AC75 version of "US Has Got Talent", Canfield said they were still open-minded about the qualities of the crew they were seeking.

"We are looking for all-around great sailors who have a lot of experience in different boats. There are a lot of young guys in the Olympic Programme in the US who are prime candidates," he said in reference to the fact that the US Youth team won the prestigious Nations Trophy for the top team in the 2018 Youth Worlds, and placed third in the same category in 2017.

With the uncertainty over the 2024 Olympic Events and the exclusion of males over 85kgs, Stars & Stripes may well find some real enthusiasm for an America's Cup team invitation by the top US Youth sailors. The US SailGP team might also get a look over by the Stars & Stripes talent scouts.

The approach of the newest America's Cup Challenger is a distant cry from the 2017 regatta in Bermuda, where only one of the sailing team was required to a (joint) passport holder to satisfy the then Protocol's residency requirements.

In this regard, Stars & Stripes has quite a different approach from their East Coast compatriots, America's Magic, who have already engaged a multi-national team, the aliens of which must qualify via a 380-day US-residency provision.

"We've purchased a design package from the Defenders, which has certainly been very helpful for a delayed entry team. We will talk more about that in early 2019. But it's no secret that we have purchased a design package."

"Design packages have been around for a while in the America's Cup," adds Buckley. "[Softbank Team] Japan's was last time, and Luna Rossa's was the time before. We’ll share more about the details in the future", he said in response to a question as to the gap between the purchased design package and the team's designed AC75.

The new team says their intention is to run a two-boat AC75 program. "We not exactly sure what that entails right now", says Buckley. "Our focus right now is building the best boat, Boat 1, that we can get to the starting line for the first World Series event in October."

"JB Braun and his design team will put together a plan on how we are going to proceed on the design of Boat 2. Our design team has been working hard on our plans to give the sailors the best platform they can to perform well in Italy and then ramp up in 2021."

"JB has been with us from the start, regardless of whether it was in an official capacity or not, JB has been instrumental. He is well respected, and his credentials are second to none - so we are really lucky to have him. We definitely have multiple people working full-time on this in our design office here in the US."

All the other details including whether a surrogate test boat will be commissioned, the size of the design team and other related matters will be answered at the team's Public Launch in early 2019.

Long Beach YC feels like home

Back in May, Buckley who was operating under the aegis of Team USA 21 [in deference to 2021 being the year of the 36th America's Cup], told Sail-World NZ that they had not settled with a yacht club and were considering several options.

Strangely this is the first America's Cup Challenge for the Long Beach Yacht Club - widely regarded as the birthplace of match racing for which the America's Cup is the pinnacle event.

"That [the choice of yacht club] is fundamental to our team's being. When we started, our essence was having an authentic story. When Taylor and I thought about where we love to sail and events we like to do in the world. There was no event that for us was more fun, and about which we were more passionate than the Congressional Cup and the Long Beach Yacht Club.

"We want to promote American sailing, and try and broaden the sport, and get people into our great sport, who have never been in a sailboat or out on the water. We looked upon the Long Beach YC as being one of those places where, when you walk through the front doors, you feel at home."

"That was very important to our authentic story."

"The club is over the moon. They are so happy - as are we."

"It couldn't be a more natural partnership between our entity and theirs, and we are now one."

Details of the team's base and training schedule will again be announced at the Public Launch in January.

Financial support for Stars & Stripes has come from all over the USA "from people who are passionate about our message. We will definitely be a smaller budget team and won't be funded by a billionaire.

"We will be going down the corporate road and having some great conversations, as we speak," says Buckley. "But first and foremost our campaign is about American sailing," he adds.

"The biggest challenge for any team is fundraising. We stumbled onto a really authentic story which resonated with some passionate individuals, who have supported us. That effort is by no means finished, and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. But we can't wait to get back to work."

Buckley says their reception by the first announced US team - American Magic - backed by the New York Yacht Club, and several wealthy individuals - is in the hands of the 132-year holder of the America's Cup. He notes that both he and Taylor Canfield are members of the New York Yacht Club.

"We have a lot of friends on their team. Our respect for them is 10 out of 10. There is certainly no bad blood between us, and we wish them well. Having said that everyone on both teams is extremely competitive, and we can't wait to get into the ring and race all the Challengers."

"We can't wait to get down to Auckland," he adds.

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