Charlie Buckingham was amongst the young new entry racing in Miami at the 90th edition of the Bacardi Cup with an American crew - and more experienced Star sailor - Austin Sperry. They finished 6th and it is a great result if it is the second ever race in the Star in your life as a skipper, and if in front of you there are only Star World Champions.
Charlie might be a rookie in the Star class, but he is a world league, super talented sailor who represented the US Sailing Team in the Laser class at the recent Rio 2016 Olympic Games, finishing 11th. He's now getting ready for Tokyo 2020, training his way to Japan.
Was it your first Star regatta? How did you like the boat? What's the feeling you get finding yourself in such a fleet?
Technically this was my fourth Star regatta, but the last regattas I did before this year were over ten years ago and as a crew. My first event was actually with my most recent crew, Austin Sperry, helming for me when I was 12. The person he was sailing with at the time couldn’t make an event they were doing in my hometown and since I was hanging around my Dad while he was rigging that morning, I became a crew candidate by default. My next event was a similar scenario when I was 15; my Dad’s crew couldn’t make it last minute so I stepped in for that one. I finally got to steer a Star in competition for the first time this year at the Midwinter’s in Miami. The Bacardi Cup was my second event as a helmsman.
I love the feeling of the Star both up and downwind. Upwind the boat is powerful yet well-balanced and doesn’t seem to lose that feeling across range of conditions. Downwind feels similar to a Laser - tactical in light wind, challenging and physical in marginal surfing conditions, and fast but loaded in the upper wind ranges.
It was a great opportunity for me to race against some legends of the class, be it the various World Champions or Olympic medalists at this year’s Bacardi cup. Not only that, but the rest of the fleet has a lot of experience in the boat and therefore everyone can have their moments in racing, making for a very tight, challenging race course and low margin for error.
Did you get a break from the Laser after Rio? Are you training now? Is going to Tokyo in your agenda? How do you plan on achieving the goal? What will you differently from Rio and what were you happy about and will try to repeat?
I had a short break after Rio. My training started in October of 2016 with a trip to the Olympic site in Tokyo to get a feel for what is in store in four years’ time, so yes, Tokyo is definitely on my agenda. I learned a lot in the lead up to the Rio Olympics as it was my first proper campaign. As the four years progressed I got the big picture correct more as time went on and my results were consistently at the top of the fleet. However, I think a combination of smaller things made the difference between my result (11th) and a medal. Having gone through all of that I think the process and lead up will be similar to Rio, but the points of focus are smaller now.
When have you started sailing? What boat? How did you make your way to being in the US Olympic Team?
I first started sailing with my Dad, Jim Buckingham (also a Star sailor), as a crew in local events in various boats. I was probably 5 or 6 when he started to sail with me in the front of the boat. I learned to sail on my own in a Naples Sabot when I was 8. Olympic sailing was something I always looked up to and kept track of because of my Dad’s interest in it but it didn’t become a reality for me until I was 18 and started sailing Lasers. As I improved, it became more and more possible in my mind and I chose to go for it full time after graduating from Georgetown University in 2011.
Do you know you were the only non-Star World Champion to win a race of the Bacardi 2017? That was great!! How does a great crew like Austin help a 'rookie' in the Stat class like yourself? Have you watched the replays of the live coverage? How do you like his way of showcasing sailing events? Can it raise interest in the sport, in your opinion? Would you like to have it in your Laser regattas?
I did not know that! Having a crew like Austin was critical for me. He fast tracked the learning on a lot of things that can take years to figure out on your own, so I was very fortunate to be sailing with that sort of experience. Additionally, Austin is simply a good dude and super fun to sail with. I think his good personality and competitive spirit contributed to a good week on the water as much as anything.
The SSL does an amazing job of showcasing the racing and athletes. Between the live footage and virtual eye, one can get a good feeling of what goes on inside the boat while gaining an understanding of how the racing actually works. It’s always interesting to hear the backgrounds and stories of the athletes as well. I think the SSL is a good model of what sailing coverage should be like all of the time.