Photo by Asia Morris, taken at the 51st Congressional Cup.
Taylor Canfield and his USOne Sailing Team became the first skipper to win three consecutive Crimson Blazers in the 52-year history of the coveted Congressional Cup regatta. Canfield defended his title last spring by mere meters, in a sport where the smallest distance or infraction can cost its participants dearly. Hosted by Long Beach Yacht Club (LBYC), the regatta served as Stage Two of the World Match Racing Tour and provided five days of unpredictable match racing in unpredictable weather.
Unseasonable breezes, showers and calms rattled the first four days of racing, with the repechage abandoned and a series shortened to first-to-two, but Long Beach finally came through with a usable breeze and summer-like sunshine just in time for the Semifinals and Finals on Sunday.
It was nothing short of a miracle that PRO Randy Smith and WMRT Racing Director Craig Mitchell were able to pull off the series, according to LBYC’s post-race report.
Canfield beat Semifinalist Scott Dickson in three matches, one after the other, with Dickson’s spinnaker grazing the spectator-filled Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, earning him a penalty the American couldn’t shake, while Nicolai Sehested of Denmark and Australian Sam Gilmore duelled it out for five matches. Later, Gilmour defeated Dickson to take third place, after a series of short-legged, excitement-filled races, shortened to ensure the completion of the series.
Canfield defeated Sehested during the first of the Finals with a 30-second lead, when Sehested retaliated in the second match, beating Canfield by three seconds. In the final sudden-death match, Canfield trailed Sehested by seconds, when he hit the leeward gate and was flagged, according to the post-race report.
“I was definitely a little worried at that point,” Canfield stated. “I made a simple mistake, a stupid error. But the boys were calm. We had nothing to lose, so we parked it up at the top mark. The execution was spot on, and Nicolai made a small mistake.”
Resuming control, Canfield shut the door on Sehested by keeping him pinned until the end. USOne Sailing Team took the match, and the cup, logging the seventh Congressional Cup win for St. Thomas Yacht Club, trailing Member Peter Holmberg’s four, albeit not consecutive, Crimson Blazer wins.
“We’re closing in on Peter’s record," said Canfield in a statement. “We’ve got a couple more in us, we’ll be back.”
“We had one hand on the trophy,” said Sehested. “It’s the closest match racing I’ve done in a long time, but we’ve had a fantastic week. It’s our first Congressional Cup, but definitely not our last. We feel so welcome here.”
Regarded as the “granddaddy of match racing,” the Congressional Cup was founded by LBYC in 1965. Racing is held in a fleet of identical 37-foot Catalina keelboats, designed and maintained specifically for the event. The world’s top-ranked skippers go head-to-head for the esteemed cup and the Crimson Blazer each spring, an honor bestowed to sailing icons like Dennis Conner, Dean Barker, Ken Read, Ted Turner, Taylor Canfield and more, according to the release.