Stars + Stripes Team USA has triumphed in the 56th Long Beach Congressional Cup capping off five-days of high-test competition in this World Match Racing Tour championship event, and making their skipper, Taylor Canfield the most successful helm in the 56-year history of the Cup.
Said Canfield, of his fifth Congressional Cup victory, “It’s incredible, but it feels just like every other win. Fantastic! And to win with the Stars+Stripes Team again: I’m on top of the world.” Racing with Canfield was Mike Buckley, CEO of Stars+Stripes, plus Mac Agnese, Leo Boucher, Victor Diaz De Leon, George Peet and Erik Shampain.
Canfield attributed the victory to “sticking to our plan.”
“Our goal is to always get better throughout the week. We had some difficult moments and some tough debriefs about how we could continue to get better, and that makes us stronger in the end.”
“And we like to keep the umpires out of the game,” Canfield added. “I think we had only one penalty over the week.”
Aggressive maneuvers and resultant penalties often proved to be the demise of Canfield’s rivals. Advancing to the semi-final round for the first time in his eight Congressional Cup history, Eric Monnin (SUI) won his initial match against Canfield. But the Capvis Swiss Match Race Team bowed to Canfield in the next three bouts, including one black flagged match. In the petite finals, Monnin beat Chris Poole (USA) in the best-of-three series, to capture his first podium finish in his Congressional Cup career. Members noted Monnin and his bride Ute Wagner are probably the first husband-wife team to podium in the Cup.
Poole (USA) and Johnie Berntsson (SWE) entered the day 2-2 with one match left in the semi-finals: a winner-take-all to advance. In the vigorous pre-start Poole, failed to keep clear and received a penalty he couldn’t exonerate before the finish, bowing to Berntsson.
Then it was Canfield versus Berntsson in the finals. It was the lightest day of the series, with patchy, more southerly breezes of 7 knots, adding to the complexity and challenge of match racing. Stars+Stripes swept the series with three wins in a row. Berntsson captured his fourth second place win in 15 years of Congressional Cup racing. The 2009 winner of the Crimson Blazer, Berntsson remains a crowd favorite at host LBYC.
Canfield commended the level of competition at the event. “It was great to come and beat an incredible field of sailors, including some great up-and-coming young guys,” Canfield added. “But at 32, I think I’ve got a few more years left in me,” he said with a laugh.
Scores of spectators had gathered on Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier to watch the spectacle, which included a fleet race for those teams not making the semis. That race was won by Jeffrey Petersen (USA), who is the current United States Youth Match Racing Champion and Governors Cup champion. Petersen is the youngest competing skipper, at 19, and had 13-year-old Madison Mansour, a LBYC Junior, doing main and tactics for the win.
“These have been some of Long Beach’s finest days: blue skies, breeze, flat water – it’s one of the reasons sailors want to come here. Another reason, Chris Macy, Congressional Cup’s 2021 chairman pointed out, is that Congressional Cup is historically on the cutting edge of yacht racing.
“You definitely saw them out there pushing hard,” said Macy. “They’re coming in to the umpires, conferring about the calls and moves, and how they can find new advantages – constantly crafting their skills. And we have some of the world’s most knowledgeable umpires on the team. To watch the world’s finest umpires and the world’s finest sailors talk about how to create these infinitesimal advantages and gains, within the rules … LBYC continues to advance the sport of match racing – just like we did with pioneering on-the-water umpiring, which is now the norm.”
Persevering through the pandemic was a challenge Macy added. “Daily!”
“In the last month there were hourly phone calls with fleet surgeons, medical professionals, competitors and officials. Ultimately, we ended up pulling off this fantastic event: great racing, social events, and spectacular weather.”
Pushing back the event to September – versus the normal springtime schedule – proved to be “kismet,” according to Macy. “When I chose my logo design, I was looking for that beach town vibe of ‘Endless Summer.’ Little did I realize that when the event was postponed, it would make our theme so much more relevant. The conditions have been absolutely fantastic.”
For more than a half-century, LBYC has organized this five-day premier regatta, known as the ‘grandfather of match racing.’ Organizers at LBYC revolutionized the game of match racing with the introduction of on-the-water umpiring, with competitors racing a fleet of custom one-design Catalina 37 keelboats that put the emphasis on strategy and skill.
In 2000, the World Match Racing Tour was founded and the Congressional Cup, already in it’s 45th year, became one of its flagship championship events. The WMRT links the best match racing events in the world, all independently organized and run by promoters and yacht clubs like LBYC, under one umbrella.
Last year, due to pandemic restrictions, only one of three championship events was held, the Bermuda Gold Cup, according to Executive Director James Pleasance.
“This year, through the hard work of the LBYC and Congressional Cup Executive Team, and US Sailing, we are delighted the Congressional Cup was able to happen; and we have seen some splendid racing!”
Pleasance went on to say the Congressional Cup results will carry extra weight for skippers this year, with so few events running. “The points really do count this week, toward the WMRT Finals in Shenzhen, China. The top eight teams here will be qualified for that December event, which carries a $200K prize purse!” announced Pleasance.
Congressional Cup has long been established as the gateway to America’s Cup, and this year served as development and training for Stars+Stripes, according to Canfield and Buckley. Recently, they held an open match racing training camp in Long Beach to foster national talent, with a focus on inclusivity.
“We like to talk about the 10 skippers, but without the 60 crew, the skippers would be sailing lasers. This is one of the drums we’re beating,” Buckley pointed out. “It’s cool to see diversity happen authentically on some of these teams, but we’ve got to start breaking the barriers and laying more groundwork: to provide opportunities and role models.”
Chris Macy officiated as Chair of the 2021 Congressional Cup assisted by Executive Committee members Lisa Meier, Bob Piercy, Steve Meyer, and Tony Mansour, plus LBYC Commodore Jon Shull. Principal Race Officer for the event was Randy Smith and officiated by Chief Umpire Flavio Naveira with a team of 14 international umpires.