Taylor Canfield, 30, is a U.S. Virgin Islands native and Boston College All-American, a five-time winner of the Congressional Cup, and the 2013 World Match Racing Tour champion. He is the flight controller and tactician for the SailGP Team USA, and a member of Long Beach Yacht Club’s Stars & Stripes team that’s challenging for the 2021 America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand. Laurie Fullerton caught up with Canfield between events in the new SailGP series.
Now that Stars & Stripes USA has reaffirmed its commitment to the Cup, what are the next steps for the team?
We are excited that Stars & Stripes USA is committed to moving forward. It has been a long road and, as expected, not an easy one. Our next steps are to continue to seek support and try to bring on some corporate partners. In addition to securing funding for the team, the boat build is by far the most important action item for the team to continue with. We have had a great group of American designers and builders involved from the beginning. We hope to fill out the rest of our management team and get a few sailors committed to foiling as much as possible in many other platforms until our boat is ready to hit the water.
As you begin training for the America’s Cup boats, how difficult will it be to transition from a foiling catamaran to a foiling monohull?
I don’t believe the monohull will be much different from the catamaran while it’s actually foiling, but the displacement-mode sailing in monohulls with no keel will, I believe, be a challenge for all of the teams.
You’ve been fully involved in the Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts-backed Sail GP, a series of stadium-style events that winds up in Marseille, France this month. What has it been like?
The series has been an awesome opportunity to sail and compete on the F50 cats, which I consider to be the fastest racing boats in the world right now. I am part of a great young team pushing hard. We always want more, and it is really cool and a great environment to be in. The team has been growing and evolving constantly and we have made some huge progress so far. We are involved with the innovation and development side of these machines, and this has been really cool.
Speaking of innovation, you are the flight controller and co-skipper with Rome Kirby. How does that work on a high-speed boat like the F50?
Rome and I have been switching back and forth, where I am sometimes the flight controller and sometimes the driver. Everyone has different skills and there is a lot of time where we are simply trying what works. Between the two of us we are spearheading both jobs together. Each team does things differently, but Rome and I are taking it on and doing it together.
Professional sailing has always been male-dominated, but with the growth of foiling boats, do you see more opportunity for women sailors?
Men are definitely built bigger, and in some ways that was a disadvantage to women in the past, but there are many key roles that a woman could easily do on these F50s, as an example. In fact, the French Sail GP team has a female flight controller on its F50 and there are a lot of roles on these high-tech boats that are not just strength-related. A woman can clearly pop into the flight controller seat or even be a grinder on these boats, so it is very doable. On a personal level, I see how hard women work in their own racing campaigns, including my fiancée, Stephanie Roble, who is pushing very hard to compete for an Olympic medal. She works harder than a lot of guys I know.
How did you like the SailGP venues in San Francisco and New York, and where else would you like to see events like this happen?
The racing has been absolutely full-on, particularly in San Francisco Bay. It was our first time sailing the F50s in those epic wind and sea conditions and we had not seen anything like that. We pushed into certain areas we had not experienced before. New York City is one of the epicenters of this country and one of the financial capitals of the world. So it was very cool to have a high-adrenaline, high-performance sports league make a stopover where so many eyes and so many growing minds can see it. But I also think one of the best places to have an event of this caliber is in Chicago. One of the best stadiums for sailing in the world is right off the Navy Pier. For me personally, coming from the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas harbor in the USVI would be great and I don’t think anyone would have any complaints about that!
Do you think that U.S. sailors will see ever more opportunity at the highest levels of our sport?
Building and recruiting all-U.S. sailing teams has become a big goal of mine, in part because I grew up in an era where very few U.S. sailors of my generation got the opportunities to sail at this level and were not really a part of events like Sail GP or the America’s Cup. I think it is time for that to change. As someone who has reached some of the higher levels of this sport, I know what it takes. I want to continue to share that with the up-and-coming generations of this country and I am willing to do whatever I can to make that happen.