Taylor Canfield and Team US One have won the 2018 Congressional Cup after an intense five-day battle with nine other of the world’s top match racing talent; and fierce finals with Dean Barker and Team American Magic, who finished second. Sam Gilmour (AUS) defeated Johnie Berntsson (SWE) in the petit-finals, for third place in this prestigious World Sailing Grade One regatta hosted by Long Beach Yacht Club.
The final matches of this legendary yachting event came down to a USA sail-off Sunday. Not since Ed Baird’s win in 2004, has Old Glory flown from the backstay of a winning boat. Although both Canfield and Barker are past Congressional Cup champions, at the time Canfield (2014, 2015, 2016) was sailing for the US Virgin Islands; and Barker (2000, 2005) under the Southern Cross, with Team New Zealand.
Defending 2017 Congressional Cup champion Ian Williams and Team GAC Pindar were edged out of the semi-finals; but rebounded with a win – and $2000 in prize money – in Sunday’s fleet race.
For the final day of Congressional Cup, despite a full docket, light breeze held off racing nearly an hour. Once they began, Canfield straightforwardly eliminated Berntsson, in the shifty 6 to 8 knot breeze.
Barker and Gilmour battled intensely, with finishes seconds apart. Going into race four, it was match point: Barker 2, Gilmour 1. Shortly after rounding the top mark on the second downwind leg, Gilmour’s spinnaker halyard popped. Despite a lightning fast recovery, Barker took the advantage and won that match, advancing to the finals.
Both Barker and Canfield have championship DNA: Barker, victorious in the America’s Cup arena; and Canfield, a Match Racing World Champion.
But Barker had beat Canfield in both matches in the Round Robins earlier this week, and held an impressive record of 16 wins – leaving Canfield the underdog, as he entered the finals. In scintillating matches, as the wind built to 14 knots, Canfield took the first race, while Barker won the second. When the third bout went to Canfield, it all came down to race four.
By this point in the regatta the sailors were in tune with their boats; in the better breeze they accelerated, and excelled. After a thrilling start, on the first upwind leg Barker tacked too aggressively according to the judges, earning a penalty. The closely matched teams dueled around the course, with Barker in the lead. But when Barker elected to take his penalty turn at the top mark, Canfield surged ahead, and never let go; taking the win and the series. Canfield joins sailing legends Gavin Brady, Peter Holmberg, and Rod Davis as a four-time winner of the Crimson Blazer. Returning to the podium to hoist the Congressional Cup were his crew of Mike Buckley, Ian Coleman, Victor Diaz de Leon, Dan Morris, George Peet, and Erik Shampain. “This feels amazing,” said Canfield after his victory. “We brought a great team here; we knew it was going to be hard. We struggled a bit earlier in the week, but kept pushing hard, and getting faster and faster. That was the biggest thing for us. The boys put in a huge effort and got me out of some tough spots, and we kept getting better and better. No doubt, by the end of the week, I think we sailed the boat best, and were the fastest team out there.”
“We’ve had an amazing time here, really happy to get back into it,” said Barker. “Coming together as a new group, I’m very proud of the result; it’s a great start for New York Yacht Club and American Magic,” referring to their challenge for the 36th America’s Cup. “It was definitely disappointing to lose the final, after sailing so well. Today wasn’t our best day. But overall we were very pleased with how we’ve been going, and to find ourselves back in and competitive after such a long break away.”
Earlier in the week, Barker admitted it’s been over a dozen years since he’s competed in the match racing circuit, adding, “Match racing has changed a lot, with the use of spinnakers at the start. We’re still improving and getting more confident every day.”
“We’ve had a great time here,” Barker continued. “It would have been nice to come out on the right end of it all, but we just made a couple too many mistakes today. Hats off to Taylor and his crew.”