On this day in late April, Mike Buckley, the newly-appointed interim CEO of Stars + Stripes Team USA is back in his apartment in New York City’s Soho, virtually surrounded by money and opportunity in the economic epicenter that never sleeps. He’s been on the road for a few weeks, but it’s good to be back. The city’s hustle and bustle, and smell of success is everywhere he looks. He takes comfort in being surrounded by everyday Americans making things happen.
If only he could get his hands on a piece of this global cash flow that’s right under his nose—just a small piece in the grand scheme of things—we’d be having a different conversation. We wouldn’t be talking about a half-built multimillion-dollar America’s Cup raceboat waiting for an injection of cash or a build team eager to finish what they started. We wouldn’t be dancing around an answer to the undeniable and fast-approaching moment of truth for the All-American America’s Cup challenger.
Nope. We’d talking about when they’d be sailing their AC75 this summer, what they’re learning from the simulator, or even who is on the sailing team.
If only. Just a pile of millions more.
These are challenging days for Buckley and his co-founder Taylor Canfield who moonlights with the American SailGP squad in San Francisco while Buckley pounds pavement to keep their All-American AC team alive. A few weeks earlier, some of the team’s management gave up the ship, placing the campaign back into Buckley and Canfield’s hands to run with. He’s a self-described dreamer, and over the phone, he’s genuine when he confirms he’s not giving up on a young Cup campaign in serious need of an angel investor.
The team’s host yacht club toed the same line, countering rumors of the team’s demise with a statement in late March that read, “Long Beach Yacht Club’s Challenge for the 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada, Stars + Stripes USA, has not withdrawn from the America’s Cup and has no plans to do so.”
Stars + Stripes USA may well be the only of three late-entry teams to have fully paid the million-dollar entry fee, as well as design fees to Emirates Team New Zealand. The recent change in management, Buckley says, is not out the ordinary for businesses or sports teams [or presidential administrations]. “Taylor and I started it this team two years ago, so this is not a huge change in leadership. We have worked with some of the smartest people we have ever met, but we have grown as a campaign, and unfortunately people come and go and we are focused on the people that are here.”
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When they started out, they knew it would always be a grassroots effort, it would be hard to get across the finish line, and if they did, they’d still be fundraising. The scale of this current America’s Cup, however, with big untested machines, high salaries and a traveling pre-event circuit, may not be realistic or attainable for scrappy first-time syndicates. With fewer entries than fingers on one’s hand, the truth of ETNZ boss Grant Dalton’s final press conference statement of AC35 in Bermuda nearly two years ago rings true: It’ll be expensive, he acknowledged straight-faced, and not for everyone.
But Dalton also acknowledged it’s not impossible while thanking his own management. “They had to learn the ways of the America’s Cup and how incredibly difficult it is to stay going, and how you really have to put it out there, particularly financially, when you can’t actually pay the salaries, but you still don’t shut the door.”
Like Dalton, Buckley is dogged, if anything. “It’s certainly difficult because the budgets are enormous,” he says. “But we’ve watched Team New Zealand, year after year, be that scrappy, low-budget team that uses their money very carefully in places that make a difference.”
Buckley doesn’t intend to wear the CEO badge forever. The search for a replacement is underway, and a new advisory board will be announced over the coming weeks, as they put maximum effort into fundraising. The build, says Buckley was on schedule and the plan is to get it back to 100-percent build capacity by the end of May. They do not have any supplied equipment yet—for example the hydraulic foil control systems provided to teams—but a delay in the foil arms to be provided to all the teams bought them some time. Even if other teams are well down the track build-wise, conceivably, they won’t be sailing anytime soon.
Still, their rivals over at the New York YC’s American Magic have been making serious hay in Pensacola, Florida, over the winter with its test boat. The on-water experience divide grows greater every day, but Buckley says time in their simulator, which is currently staged somewhere in Massachusetts, is keeping them on the curve and ahead of the other late-comers at least.
“We do get lumped in with the other two late entry teams [Maltus Altus Challenge and Dutch Sail Challenge], but we are vastly different. The two other teams, to my knowledge, have not started building boats, and I’m not sure where they are on entry fees, but we want to see them to get to the finish line and get as many teams as possible to the finish line to make this a fantastic event.”
But time is time and time doesn’t wait for anyone, so there’s undeniable pressure to be on the starting line with a sorted AC75 and crew in Cagliari, Italy, in April 2020. One year in a Cup cycle is a blink. They’ve been building the boat since last year and feel he has a little more runway than one may think. There is not a go- or no-go date, so momentum is their fuel.
That momentum, he says, if driven by the comments he hears every day in support of the team’s vision. “A lot of kids under the age of 20 have never seen an All-American team in the America’s Cup,” he says. “Think about that. If we don’t get there, then add four or six years until they do see it. That’s why we wake up every day with a chip on our shoulder to get this done. It’s not for us. It’s for America, and that’s why we continue to push on it.
“Building a Cup team from scratch is hard,” he concludes. “There’s risk and there’s reward, and we know it’s never going to be easy, but we’re sure as hell not going to giving up.”