CRIMSON FOR CANFIELD – USVI native Taylor Canfield bolstered his dominance in the world of match racing, by winning the season opener in April: the coveted Crimson Blazer – icon of the prestigious Congressional Cup [CC] which is hosted by Long Beach Yacht Club, Calif.
Canfield joins legendary sailors like Dennis Conner, Ted Turner, Dean Barker, and Rod Davis who have captured the title over the past 50 years: many using the Congressional Cup as a launchpad for the America’s Cup. And USVI’s own Peter Holmberg is a four-time winner of the Congressional Cup, sailing under the St. Thomas YC burgee in 1998, 1999 and 2001; and in 2002 – representing the Golden Gate YC.
The Congressional Cup is recognized as the innovator of on-the-water umpiring and one of the most prominent match racing events in the world. It’s sailed in Catalina 37s designed and maintained to the highest standards in match racing, with a crew of six. Racing is off the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier – where the action is up close and personal with convenient Congressional Cup stadium viewing and colorful commentary. An invitational regatta, it hosts the foremost match racing skippers from around the globe – including five of the top ten-ranked skippers in this 50th Jubilee event.
While not the youngest contestant to win the Grade 1 regatta, Canfield is surely one of the more poised. Despite six prior Congressional Cup champions in the lineup, he was calm, cool, collected. “Our team performs well under pressure; everyone just works really hard for the moment,” he said. “We just go out and do it one race at a time – you don’t go out and count your eggs too early.”
But the week had started out rocky.
After the first day of the second stage of racing – with two opponents already carved out of the field – Canfield and his US One Sailing Team stood in a four-way tie for third place – smack dab in the middle of the pack. “We’re definitely trying to dust a little bit of the rust off,” admitted the ISAF number one ranked skipper whose team hadn’t sailed together in about five months. “We’re getting back in the groove, getting communications back to normal, and getting reacquainted with these boats.”
Throughout the event, Canfield’s father Bill watched, and glowed. “Taylor was pretty much born on the water; he started sailing Optis at five, and keelboats at ten,” revealed the senior Canfield.
Taylor’s childhood was spent tooling around on the water near his Virgin Islands home, his dad relayed. “He and his friends went out every day after school and just went sailing. ‘Like Huckleberry Finn – they sailed around; sometimes we’d drive them to St. Johns for ice cream cones and they’d sail back home, seven miles to windward, in their Optis. They just loved to sail and explore.”
That familiarity and confidence has translated to a powerhouse on the water. Canfield began a steady climb up the ladder at the Congressional Cup, winning all five of his races by Day Three, and besting number two-ranked Ian Williams (GBR) on the final day of round robins to cement his berth in the semi finals, as well as the privilege to pick his opponent for the penultimate match.
“It’s taken a big effort in a tough field: there are some really tough competitors sailing really hard,” Canfield said. “I know the team has what it takes, and it’s just going to come down to continuing to work hard and hopefully bringing home the Crimson Blazer.”
But first Canfield had to dispatch Australia’s Keith Swinton, who reached the final four with a hard-fought tiebreaker against defending champion Simone Ferrarese of Italy and France’s Mathieu Richard, the 2007 Cup winner.
Meanwhile Williams won his matches against Francesco Bruni of Italy, the 2010 champion; for the final showdown against Canfield. After one win each, it came down to sudden death – as hundreds of spectators watched from the pier. But Williams drew a penalty in a pre-start foul, and never could catch up to the Caribbean Kid.
At the Long Beach Yacht Club prize-giving Canfield said he was ‘almost speechless’ as he donned the Crimson Blazer, and accepted his $17,500 in prize money. It was his fourth attempt, and he vowed to come back and defend his title.