For America’s Cup rumor slingers, the December 12 announcement that Taylor Canfield’s and Mike Buckley’s American challenge for the 36th edition in Auckland in 2021 was accepted by the Defender was a long time coming.
The long-time-coming is true as well for Canfield and Buckley who, between their own pro sailing gigs, have been knocking on doors and calling in favors for nearly two years as they hustled to fill a war chest. The road to the Cup is a long one, however, and even with the support of Los Angeles’ Long Beach YC and a millionaire’s club of patrons, the upstart team of first timers enter the Cup arena as a sports better’s long shot against the experienced juggernauts of INEOS Team UK, Luna Rossa, and the New York YC’s American Magic, all of whom have been busy designing, sailing, and training in earnest for many months now.
“I think this will be a defining moment for American sailing,” said Canfield, raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands but now living in Miami. “We have already begun assembling our sailing roster and will announce more details, soon. It has been my professional goal to compete in the America’s Cup my whole life and I am confident we will be very competitive in Auckland.”
According to a team spokesperson, the team intends to play the long game — at least a few Cup cycles — as an all-American squad, but the current order of business is to continue to recruit a team, both sailing and shore, while building a fan base under the livery of Stars & Stripes Team USA. The team name, says Buckley, of New York, New York, is a nod to Dennis Conner’s iconic brand of America’s Cups past.
“We are the next generation,” says Buckley. “We feel honored to revive that legacy and met with Dennis in person where he affirmed both our use of the name as well as our goal to create an authentic and inclusive American team.”
With Conner’s blessing, and with the support of Long Beach YC commodore Bill Durant, who’s signature event is LBYC’s annual Congressional Cup match race regatta, Canfield and Buckley will continue their search for homegrown talent while construction of an AC75 continues in Michigan. Design direction is being overseen by JB Braun, of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Braun, who’s been in the Cup game for two decades, is the Director of Design and Engineering with North Sails and directed Oracle Team USA’s sail and rig package for the 34th and 35th editions of the Cup, so he knows plenty of both the aero and foil considerations. Not to mention complications.
Braun, of course, brings a direct link to North Sails and its technical resources. Ken Read, North Sails president and Stars & Stripes alumni under Conner, says Braun will continue to his current role with the company while integrating his new America’s project.
“North Sails has a long-standing history of ‘loaning’ key designers and engineers to the design groups of America’s Cup syndicates, which not only helps us make better product for each team but also pushes our software and our smartest people to completely new levels,” Read says. “We currently have key designers and software engineers working with Ineos, Stars and Stripes, Luna Rosa and ETNZ.”
The build of its AC75, the team states in its first announcement, has been accelerate with the purchase of a “design and technology” package from Emirates Team New Zealand. Design packages vary from Cup to Cup, and while Buckley declined to share the contents of the team’s starter package, he does say they’ve been at it for a while now. “The lights have been on for a while and the boat is under construction in Michigan [Holland],” he says. “That part fits into our story because in 2008 to 2009 manufacturing was shutting down shop there, and now we’re back there in the manufacturing capital of America building a boat, and we’re really happy about that.”
With limited in-house design resources, the design package would likely be thorough, says Scott Ferguson, design director for Oracle Team USA in the previous Cup. “I don’t know what they negotiated, but if you don’t fill a decent-size design team with structural engineers and the like, you’re going to have to rely on information going directly to the builder. So, what a package might include would be full scantlings of the hull and the hull structure. The most sensitive part of this whole thing will be the foils and that’s one area where Team New Zealand would hold back on certain things. The package will certainly have all the basics to get the boat built and sailing.”
What’s the going rate to a get a jump on the AC75? Several million for sure, says Ferguson, and of course, everything is negotiable from there.
Leading the management team as CEO is 36-year-old entrepreneur Justin Shaffer, of San Francisco, who left his career in the tech field to pursue a career in professional big-boat sailing. He’s supported by COO Tod Reynolds, the director of Chicago’s Match Race Center who oversaw the hugely successful America’s Cup World Series Chicago event. Melinda Erkelens, of San Francisco, has been retained as General Counsel to guide the team through the Cup’s sea of red tape, a role she is versed in having counseled both Oracle Team USA and Artemis Racing in past Cup campaigns.
“We’re not running it like a first-timer team,” says Buckley. “We got to a point where we were comfortable properly launching this team. We will be lean and mean, and we’re not going to have a huge group of employees. We are here to win this thing and we will have as many smart people as we possibly can. Building an organization has been the most important piece of the puzzle over the last six months. Getting everyone onboard legitimizes our organization and that’s something that Taylor and I needed.”
With Buckley and Canfield essentially East Coasters, how is it that the team landed in Long Beach? “We were trying to get the right fit,” says Buckley. “There are so many great clubs in the United States, and we had to see which one felt like home. That’s what it feels like in Long Beach Yacht Club. Taylor has won for Congressional Cups there and they love him in that city. There is no other place like it in the world, with the volunteers that show up for that event. We hope that we can involve all yacht clubs, but Long Beach is home.”
“They’re great people, very supportive members,” Canfield adds. “It’s incredible what they do at the Con Cup every year. They dig into their pockets and put on an amazing event and that’s the type of people we want to have involved in a project like ours.”
There is much work to be done, and fundraising will continue all the way thought the campaign, says Buckley, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It keeps people hungry, he says, and he’ll have a hungry team that will fight all the way to the end.