LONG BEACH, CALIF 22 APRIL 2018 - - 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 lightening 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.
TAYLOR CANFIELD - TEAM US ONE
"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."
The winner of the Congressional Cup is awarded the coveted Crimson Blazer - similar in status to golfing's Masters Green Jacket. Donning the blazer in front of the cheering crowd at LBYC's pool deck, Canfield added, "This is an incredible event, as always. I cannot thank the club enough, and all the volunteers, organizers and umpires. It's you guys who make the event so special to us." In addition to the trophy, Team US One receives $16,000 in prize money.
"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."
TERRY HUTCHINSON - AMERICAN MAGIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
"Unfortunately today it didn't quite roll our way in the end, but high marks to the guys on board for sailing a great two regattas. We applied pressure all the way through, and when pressure was applied to us, we responded."
"Congratulations to Taylor's team for closing it out today. They sailed a really solid series against us."
"Looking at the big picture, if we were our best just three months into a new program, it'd be a little bit disappointing." American Magic is "still in its infancy," Hutchinson reminded. "It's great after 13 years, to come back into it so well, and look at it as a glass half full, and try to set ourselves up for the long-term. The beautiful thing is we'll do a lot of self-analysis, and get better from there. It's all very exciting."
SAM GILMOUR - NEPTUNE RACING TEAM
"The guys really dug deep, it's been a great week," said Gilmour, who admitted he had been, "really going for the Crimson Blazer," pointing to Barker, Canfield and Berntsson, saying, "You guys already have one in your closet!"
"We appreciate the support of the club and everyone who puts so many hours into organizing this. We look forward to being back."
ERIC DICKINSON - CONGRESSIONAL CUP CHAIRMAN
Chairman Eric Dickinson said a "perfect storm" of spectacular sailing conditions, superior competition, and expanded media platform, combined to make the 2018 Congressional Cup an "overwhelming success."
"This is the best, most breeze we've had in years. We're back to a 10-boat format, with nobody waiting in the wings and no boat swaps, so everything is running smoothly. And being able to do live streaming has made an incredible difference. The buzz is incredible."
LBYC'S Congressional Cup regatta is the first event of its kind to highlight Samsung's 360-degree cameras with the Virtual Reality headsets.
"The coverage has ramped up the member experience, and our fans really seem to like it. Plus we're getting it out to the masses, and the metrics show we're attracting a younger audience to the sport."
Dickinson's vision for state-of-the-art viewing, both live and virtual, began even before he started his ascent up the ladder to 2018 Chairman. "I had five years to try to plan it," he said. "I had the vision; but I didn't know what I didn't know." "Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it."
He said the scope of the project was immense, but Geoffrey Talbot, LBYC's Media and Communications Director, stepped up to the plate. "We would not have had this overwhelming success without the outstanding team of professionals he put together." Coverage utilizes 3D and other state of the art cameras, shooting from various platforms and angles, to broadcast live stream on Facebook and YouTube simultaneously. Plus there are video highlights and features, and live commentary.
Dickinson applauded his Executive Team, saying, "each of those members make a five year commitment - as do their families." He also recognized the 300-plus volunteers who help organize, host and run the Congressional Cup each year. "It's not easy, rallying 300 volunteers, every year … for 54 years!" he laughed.
And yet LBYC has continued to put on world-class event that competitors agreed is, "Second to none. That's the reason we come back," as Steele put it.
"We couldn't do this, without the incredible contributions and dedication of our sponsors and volunteers," Dickinson pointed out. Such as Beverly Shafer - a 30-year member of LBYC, who passed away earlier this month at the age of 88. A community icon, after her retirement Shafer stepped in to work with her children Denny and Denise, at their popular Alamitos Bay restaurant Schooner or Later. Shafer was busy delegating tasks up until her passing; reminding Schooner or Later's head chef of a commitment she'd made to LBYC. "Don't forget the muffins for Congressional Cup." And those muffins were indeed in the breakfast buffet served the racers, officials and volunteers, at Congressional Cup 2018.
THE CONGRESSIONAL CUP is one of the most prestigious top-level yachting events in the world. Established by LBYC in 1965, it is recognized as the 'grandfather' of match racing, pioneering the concept of on-the-water umpiring 30 years ago. This annual competition for the prestigious Congressional Cup trophy and Crimson Blazer features an elite delegation of the world's best sailors competing in five days of rousing matches, in the waters off Long Beach.
FINAL RESULTS: CONGRESSIONAL CUP 2018
Taylor Canfield, USA
Dean Barker, USA
Sam Gilmour, AUS
Johnie Berntsson , SWE
Ian Williams, GBR
Joachim Aschenbrenner, DEN
Eric Monnin, SUI
Scott Dickson, USA
Chris Steele, NZL
Harry Price, AUS
Visit www.thecongressionalcup.com for video archives of the action, with commentary by celebrity announcer Tucker Thompson, with Leo Takahashi and Josh Wijohn; and feature segments by Australian Producer/Actress Camilla Jackson