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America’s Cup: End of the dream for Stars + Stripes?

America's Cup

Yacht Racing Life editor Justin Chisholm weighs in on what could be the final twist in the long-running saga of the American Stars + Stripes challenge for the 36th America’s Cup.

If this were an American football we would be talking about a “Hail Mary” final pass of the game attempt. But I am English and so the phrase that comes most readily to my mind is: “Nice try boys, but no coconut!”.

The news this week that the America’s Cup Arbitration Panel had quashed an attempt by the ailing American Stars + Stripes syndicate to pave the way for it to borrow another team’s first generation AC75 to take part in the Prada Cup Challenger Selection Series can have come as no surprise to anyone – including, I suspect, the team’s founders Mike Buckley and Taylor Canfield.

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The basis of the Stars + Stripe submission was that the fundamental requirement for teams to race boats built in the country from which they originate technically applied only to the America’s Cup Match itself.

If that were found to be true then Stars + Stripes would “technically” be eligible to race another team’s AC75 in the remaining Preliminary Events (the America’s Cup World Series and Christmas Cup regattas scheduled for December 2020 in Auckland and the Prada Cup Challenger Selection Series there in February/March 2021).

The Stars + Stripes campaign started strongly with seemingly plentiful backing which enabled Buckley and Canfield to hire sailors, support staff, and a strong executive committee.

They were also able to commission the construction of an AC75 based on designs purchased from the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand. The team’s fiercely patriotic stance seemed to resonate well with sailing fans on social media and crew trials around the country were reported oversubscribed.

However, things soon took a turn for the worse when a major backer pulled out a large chunk of the funding. Soon after, work on building the AC75 ceased and the very large majority of the staff were made redundant. Buckley and Taylor refused to give up their joint dream of competing in the America’s Cup and somehow managed to carry the Long Beach Yacht Club along with them.

The club made an announcement at the beginning of April 2019 stating that:

“Stars + Stripes USA, has not withdrawn from the America’s Cup and has no plans to do so. LBYC leadership along with Stars + Stripes team leaders Mike Buckley and Taylor Canfield have doubled down on their All-American challenge and will continue to push to the end.”

In July 2019 LBYC Commodore Camille Daniels was quoted in another announcement, saying:

“Long Beach Yacht Club is committed to making the start line at the first America’s Cup World Series Event in Cagliari, Italy, our membership is excited, and we are all working hard to achieve our goal of bringing the America’s Cup to Long Beach.”

Buckley – who took over the role of team CEO at that time – added:

“We appreciate the continued support of LBYC and its membership, and the assistance of Emirates Team New Zealand and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, over the past few months as we have reorganized our team. We continue to make progress with corporate partners and believe we will have what it takes to be competitive in Auckland.”

Since then, however, news on the Stars + Stripes campaign has been sparse. The last story on its America’s Cup web page was posted in March 2019 and the direct address starsandstripesteamusa.com has lapsed and is available for purchase.

In October 2019 a press release issued by Condé Nast Entertainment indicated that the company had signed a deal with the team to produce a documentary series about its America’s Cup campaign. Given the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic it seems unlikely that this project will see the light of day.

Behind the scenes rumours of the team being close to signing up to three major sponsors have surfaced and died out again on several occasions.

Despite steadfastly refusing to withdraw from the 36th America’s Cup seemingly under any circumstances, Stars + Stripes were reportedly equally unforthcoming when it came to paying the fees required of them under the rules of the competition.

Deadlines for payments of millions of Euros came and went without any monies being transferred. Understandably, the other teams – who had paid their dues on time – were reported to be unhappy at their continued inclusion on the list of Challengers.

The struggling team’s only supporter had been Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton, who it is fair to say, had given the team as much rope as he possible could – feasibly in the hope of recouping some of the multi-million NZ Dollar AC75 design fee. However in May this year he publicly admitted that the team were “struggling”

“I wouldn’t rate them as a high chance,” he told a New Zealand news outlet.

Having run out of time and money to finish and launch its own AC75, Buckley and Canfield came up with the idea of borrowing a boat from one of the other teams in order to compete in the preliminary events in Auckland. To make that happen they needed the Arbitration Panel to effectively waive the “built in country” element of the America’s Cup protocol.

A formal submission was made to the panel which sought submissions from the other teams as interested parties to the event.

COR36 – the administrative wing of the Official Challenger of Record Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team tried to have the request thrown out on the basis that: firstly, Stars + Stripes were in default on the payments and therefore not eligible make such requests; secondly, the request itself was not allowed as it was a hypothetical question.

The panel dismissed both of these, finding that: firstly, despite being in arrears the team was still a valid Challenger and therefore able to avail itself of the arbitration process’ and secondly, that Stars + Stripes had proved that a positive outcome would result in a direct action, making the request not merely hypothetical.

COR36 also requested that the Arbitration Panel exclude Stars + Stripes from further participation in the 36th America’s Cup, something which the panel refused to rule on and suggested would need to part of a separate request to the panel.

When it came to the meat of the matter however the panel’s ruling was not good for the Buckley and Canfield contingent. They took several pages in which to say it, but the cold hard facts were that if you want to challenge for the America’s Cup you have to do it in a boat you built in your own country.

Thank goodness, in this case at least, that common sense has prevailed. The prospect of Stars + Stripes being allowed to rock up to Auckland in a borrowed boat is utterly laughable. All that scenario could possibly have done would be to tarnish the event’s reputation as the pinnacle of professionalism in yacht racing.

Aside from whatever first-generation boat they managed to scrounge being hugely uncompetitive against the second generation of AC75s, it is hard to conceive that they could field a crew capable of getting the boat around the course successfully on a regular basis. Putting it bluntly, the sailors capable of sailing an AC75 are already employed by Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team, Ineos Team USA, and NYYC American Magic.

Can we now draw a line under the Stars + Stripes campaign? Short of money and time and without a boat to race, will Buckley and Taylor be able to accept the inevitable and withdraw with whatever grace is left to them.

I am hopeful that they will, otherwise a formal request to the Arbitration Panel from COR36 will very likely see them unceremoniously kicked out. That would be the worst outcome for them individually, as well as for the reputations of the Long Beach Yacht Club and the America’s Cup.

Justin Chisholm 
Editor

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