Out of the shadows and into the light

Published on December 13th, 2018

Mike Buckley and Taylor Canfield, highly accomplished in match racing and twenty-something foot one design classes, took a significant step by announcing their Stars & Stripes Team USA had formally been accepted as a Challenger of the 36th America’s Cup.

Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checked in with Mike on the day of their announcement for an update, and while there were a number of topics he preferred to not comment on until their public launch event in early 2019, here’s what he got:

A lot of people have wanted to enter the America’s Cup but couldn’t get to this finish line. Why did you make it?

We certainly are not across the finish line yet. Let’s be clear, we’ve achieved step one, which was to get our organization in place where we were comfortable entering this race. We feel confident that we can make it to the finish line, but there’s a lot of hard work left to do.

Three Challenger teams have gotten a pretty good head start on you. Can you catch up? Are you in this to win?

Make no mistake, everybody in our camp believes that we have a chance to win or we wouldn’t be doing it. Around our team, we like to talk about it as a delayed start, not necessarily a late start. We’ve certainly been working really hard behind the scenes. We’ve had a designer in place for quite a while. Our boat is being built… it’s underway in Holland, Michigan. So there’s a lot of things that have been going on behind the scenes. So even though it now becomes public, we’ve been working really hard for a year and a half on the project.

Taylor Canfield (left) and Mike Buckley

Where do you think the three other teams are compared to your timeline?

To be honest, we’re not really focused on where the other teams are. All we can control is where we are. And like I said, we have our head of design in place. He’s been working really hard building a team around him. We’ve just started hiring athletes. We’ve had a CEO and a COO for quite some time tightening up the organization. We’re two months into our boat being built in the middle of Michigan, and we couldn’t be happier about that story.

Why Michigan?

Michigan is kind of where it all started in America for manufacturing. So to us, there’s not a better story than creating jobs in Michigan. We all remember the financial crisis of 2007-8, what that looked like and the fallout from that period. It just so happens there’s a lot of really good people that have stuck around Michigan, from the machine shops and the tooling shops. The facility where we are building our boat, all those great high-end shops are a stone’s throw away, so we think that’s a pretty nice competitive advantage for timing.

Specifically, who is building your boat?

We’d prefer not to comment on that at this time.

When will the boat be ready to launch?

We will announce that when we’re a little bit closer on timing and dates. We want to make sure we’re not changing that multiple times.

The all-American angle, why?

I think America is ready for it. Again, it goes back to our authentic story. When we went through the history of the last, I don’t know, 15 or 20 years of the America’s Cup and researched different teams all over the world, when we looked at the success of certain teams, the one thing that was always the same is the teams that were successful all the way around had authentic stories. These teams were able to win over the hearts and minds of their fans and that’s one of our goals.

It’s safe to say that the time is now to start inspiring American sailors in the next generation to continue to sail and continue to follow their dreams and get more people on the water. Be more inclusive. Get people that have never had the ability to be in a sailboat in their life out there to enjoy what we’re so lucky to experience.

Your team has purchased a design and technology package from Emirates Team New Zealand. What does that mean?

I can’t go into detail currently on exactly what that means. However, I think it’s no secret, in the America’s Cup, year after year, certain teams buy technology from other teams. So it’s really no different than that.

Would it be possible for a team entering at this stage to do it on their own?

The biggest obstacle that any team has right now is time. It would be pretty hard for a team to show up today with no design, and just turn the lights on and make it to the starting line. Yeah, no question about that.

Mike, no disrespect, but America’s Cup teams tend to be steep in experience and knowledge, and from the outside you look thin. What is going to get you up to speed?

No offense taken. I’ve had a lot of people give me advice over the years, and from those I most respect, the advice is always to hire people that are smarter than you. That is something we have achieved so far.

Getting our CEO Justin Shaffer– he’s led huge start-ups, worked for Facebook and Major League Baseball and done things at an incredibly high level. Tod Reynolds as our COO is extremely experienced having worked with the America’s Cup quite a bit on the event side. And JB is certainly no stranger to the America’s Cup having been involved in the last two cycles with Oracle; he’s been around the block.

So yes, we’re a younger team, and we don’t have as much America’s Cup experience, but what we’ve done is surround ourselves with really experienced, mature individuals. Plus, at the end of the day it’s just a sailboat race, and we’ve all been successful at that. We know this is an incredible task that we have ahead of us, and we’re willing to put in the work to try to win this thing.

With JB Braun as your Head of Design, who also holds a similar title with North Sails, does that mean your team is working with North Sails?

We’d prefer not to comment on that at this time.

When the late entry submittals were received by the Defender and Challenger of Record, they said several had conditions on them. Were there any conditions to your challenge?

Again, a lot of that stuff we can’t really talk about, but we submitted under the normal protocol and were fully vetted and accepted. We certainly weren’t one of the teams that came in with last-minute protocol changes or anything like that. We had been in negotiations with both the Defender and Challenger of Record for many months prior to submitting our entry, so they were well aware of our team and were ready to receive the entry.

Your entry will represent Long Beach Yacht Club. Explain the connection.

When we set out to create our team’s values, value #1 was authentic stories. When we approached different yacht clubs, Taylor and I recognized how we’d always had a love for the Long Beach Yacht Club. He’s won four Congressional Cups; I’ve won one. We’ve both participated in way more than that. From those experiences, there’s not a yacht club in the world that we’ve been to that is more supportive of their events. The LBYC members are arms-wide-open and we found that was a really authentic story, and that’s our #1 value.

Where will be your training base?

We’d prefer not to comment on that at this time.

How are you going about your crew recruitment?

We will announce our recruitment process at our official launch. We’ve got some exciting things planned, but we’re not ready to release that today.

But you will be up and running with a sailing team next year?

The answer is yes, for sure. Our plan is to compete in the first America’s Cup World Series event that is planned for Italy in October 2019.

How about a World Series event in the USA?

Unfortunately, it’s not up to us. It’s up to the Challenger of Record, but we certainly want to have home events here in the United States. No question about it. We’d love to see one on the West Coast.

Will you have any protocol approved training boats?

Again, at our public launch, we’ll discuss our team plans for the next two and half years but not today, unfortunately.

Team details: https://starsandstripesteamusa.americascup.com

In addition to Challenges from Italy, USA, and Great Britain that were accepted during the initial entry period (January 1 to June 30), eight additional Notices of Challenge were received by the late entry deadline on November 30. Of those eight submittals, entries from Malta and USA have thus far been accepted. Here’s the current list:

• Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL)

• Luna Rossa (ITA) – Challenger of Record
• American Magic (USA)
• Malta Altus Challenge (MLT)
• Stars & Stripes Team USA (USA)

Key America’s Cup dates:
✔ September 28, 2017: 36th America’s Cup Protocol released
✔ November 30, 2017: AC75 Class concepts released to key stakeholders
✔ January 1, 2018: Entries for Challengers open
✔ March 31, 2018: AC75 Class Rule published
✔ June 30, 2018: Entries for Challengers close
✔ August 31, 2018: Location of the America’s Cup Match and The PRADA Cup confirmed
✔ August 31, 2018: Specific race course area confirmed
✔ November 30, 2018: Late entries deadline
March 31, 2019: Boat 1 can be launched
2nd half of 2019: 2 x America’s Cup World Series Preliminary Events
February 1, 2020: Boat 2 can be launched
During 2020: 3 x America’s Cup World Series Preliminary Events
December 10-20, 2020: America’s Cup Christmas Race
January and February 2021: The PRADA Cup Challenger Selection Series
March 2021: The America’s Cup Match

Details: www.americascup.com

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