With a flawless performance from start to finish, 24-year-old Virgin Islands sailor Taylor Canfield did not lose a race en route to a dominating victory in the fifth running of the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup sailed February 26th. Canfield and his stellar crew—four-time Canadian Olympian Richard Clarke, and accomplished Caribbean sailor Mark Plaxton—went undefeated in seven races during the early round-robin qualifying tournament, and then dispatched fellow Virgin Islander Cy Thompson in two straight races in the best-of-three finals to earn the winner’s purse of $5,000.
Runner-up Thompson took the second-place prize of $2,000. In the petit final, last year’s Budget Marine Match Racing champion Colin Rathbun of the B.V.I. beat Russian Eugeny Nikiforov to earn the third-place check of $1,000.
The fifth edition of the event, which kicked off a festival of sailing culminating with the 33rd running of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, attracted the strongest fleet of match racers in the series growing history. The eight skippers included Ukrainian sailor Rodion Luka, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist; professional sailor Anthony ‘Tonks’ Kotoun, another Virgin Islander; Lorenz Mueller of Switzerland; and Thomas Mallindine from the U.K. The event was contested in identical 20-foot Jeanneau SunFast sloops in shifty, challenging winds ranging from 8-18 knots in the Simpson Bay lagoon.
However, despite the world-class field of competitors, the day belonged to Canfield, the former Boston College star who is currently ranked 8th in the ISAF Match Race Rankings and serves as the director of the Chicago Match Race Center. “I’ve been match racing for six or seven years now so I’m getting accustomed to it,” he said. “I usually got off the line pretty well, hit the shifts and stayed in the puffs. My crew did a great job of keeping me in phase and the rest was easy from there.”
Canfield was also quick to heap praise upon his tactician and mainsheet trimmer, Clarke, and Plaxton, who handled the jib. “Richard was in charge of the tactics and was on top of it. Mark did a good job on jib trim and keeping us honest with boat speed and weight placement in the boat, which is really crucial in these centerboard boats. They’re really tippy so that’s really important.”
“It was nice sailing with the kid,” said Clarke, smiling. “I was just trying to keep up with him and not slow him down.”
Nobody slowed Canfield down in the ten round-robin flights that determined the four sailors who advanced to the championship finals. Both Thompson and Rathbun had identical scores of five wins and two losses after the preliminary rounds, but Thompson advanced to the finals on the strength of his victory over Rathbun earlier in the day. All in all, it was a resounding day for the Virgin Islanders in the fleet.
“A bunch of guys-Anthony Kotoun and Cy Thompson-were from my hometown (of St. Thomas),” said Canfield. “So that kind of rekindled a flame. I grew up sailing with Cy, and went to school with him. So it was cool to sail in the finals together with my best buddy. There were just a lot of good guys out there. And the conditions were very unique (in Simpson Bay). You’ve got the mountain that the wind drops down off of so it’s very shifty and squirrely. You have to make the best of the situation when you’re behind and keep fighting because there are always lanes for passing.”
Perhaps that’s true, but rarely, if ever, was Canfield seriously behind. Looking ahead, he has plans for both his $5,000 check, and his future. “We’ll have a pretty good night tonight,” he said, “and hopefully we’ll be back next year.”
Maybe then Canfield will actually lose a race in the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup. But as he proved on the racecourse, you might not wish to bet against him.