Written by Rebecca Hayter
Photography by Carlo Borlenghi / America's Cup
American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson came to a press conference soloon Monday 18 January to talk about the dramatic sky-jump and capsize of the team’s AC75 Patriot on Sunday.
All crew are safe, but he admits those beneath the mainsail on the leeward side all got their knives out to extricate themselves from the boat. The boat is broken, after looking set to take its first win in the round robins, and is expected to be about two weeks under repair.
He’s one of the best match racers in the world and incredibly articulate, so the perfect person to front the press conferences on behalf of American Magic. That combination of experience is also able to translate into a simple explanation exactly what happens on an AC75 when travelling at speeds unknown to most yachties.
“The boats are, by nature, most-controlled when they’re going fast,” Hutchinson says. “When you slow down from 40 knots to 30 knots, the apparent wind goes aft, all the load in the boat goes up and the boat becomes unstable. So if you have the opportunity to keep the thing ripping all the time, and go as fast as possible, it’s the easiest to control.”
Going into the gate rounding, a crew member was heard to warn, twice, that it would be a really difficult manoeuvre, however it was less obvious that it was in response to a comment that the other gate was looking very light. The discussion was taking place at around 47 knots boat speed.
“I trust Andrew and Dean, as we all do when we get on that boat day in and day out,” says Hutchinson. “When one of those guys makes a comment and you hear it in his tone about it being light, you take it seriously.
“It is truly one of those games that if you make one mistake and the boat touches down, it doesn’t take much for the guy behind to get around you. And so we made the decision to do what we did.
“We struggled through that manoeuvre because we got a puff at about the same time we were bearing off, and we were accelerating. In that exact moment, the runner was a little bit fetched up on the mainsail, the sails were eased and the boat was accelerating, but we were still building up to our top speed. Those are the unfortunate consequences of racing in an incredibly turbulent condition.
“You look at the boat speed when the boat was accelerating through the trajectory of the turn, and we were going 47 knots or something.”
There’s transverse structure inside the boat and then there’s a longitudinal structure. And when you look at the boat in slow motion, it popped quite a wheelie. The leeward foil came out of the water and we got a reasonable amount of bow-out altitude up. And when the boat slammed down, it’s fine if it slams flat on its keel. But when you land on the side, on the flat panel, basically the structure inside the yacht just guillotined the panel and out it came.”
On the way out, it left a rectangular exit route that immediately became an entry point for sea water. Hutchinson said the boat didn’t “pop” back to the surface as expected and a crew member said on the onboard audio that he felt they were taking on water.
“At the time, it felt like the boat was going to sink,” Hutchinson says. “Everybody around us, from the other teams to the local authorities helped us get the pumps in the boat; we ended up with 16.
“We had a jib wrapped around the hole and then the fire and rescue units deployed what I would categorise as two airplane-style life rafts that we wrapped underneath the bow of the boat and inflated. That was what really stopped the bleeding from that moment on.”
Looking ahead, American Magic already has a place guaranteed in the semi-final, with only three Challengers in the game. One goes straight to the finals; the other two battle it out to take that team on.
“The guys have to get the boat ready, and we have to follow a bit of a procedure to do it because the boat’s just that complex. It’s probably a little bit too early to suggest an exact time that we’ll be back out on the water, but we know we have a hard deadline of a week from Friday for the semi-final.”
On the bright side, the boat’s complex hydraulics have remained intact, but the electronics will require a major replacement. The foiling arms systems are also gone, but replacements can be taken from the team’s gen-one boat, Defiant.
We’ve seen dramatic capsizes in the America’s Cup before and seen teams rock up for just another day at the office a few days later, or even the following day. As helmsman, Dean Barker tends to get the heaviest critique.
Hutchinson says, “Dean is a critical part of our team. I’ve encouraged him since we started this program to ‘Be Dean Barker, don’t be anything different.’”
“We want the person that has all the intensity that he has, but also has a certain demeanor about him, which makes him the perfect person to sail this boat. He’s got a little bit of ice water in his veins, which is what the boat requires. When we go out and go sailing the next time, I’ll always encourage him not take his foot off the pedal because that’s what will bite us.
“We, as a team, have the utmost confidence in him and his abilities. From my perspective, there’s nobody else we’d rather have on the wheel than him.”
Hutchinson says American Magic has received immense commitment of support from throughout the industry, including other syndicates.
“As competitors, a majority of the time we argue with each other about things. But at the end of the day, you couldn’t come across more sportsmanship or more generous teams than we have around us. With all the sincerity in the world, they’ve extended pretty much all of their facilities to us to use to rebuild Patriot.
“From a boatbuilding perspective, the defenders are in the strongest position to help us because we’re in their hometown. If you want to look at it with the glass half full, which I do, they’re winding down a certain portion of their program and there are a lot of people who are available to help us out straight away. They’ve put us in contact and I spoke with Grant Dalton, Richard Meacham and others this morning, who helped us get the boat in last night. I think Dalt’s quote was, ‘Whatever you need, we have it for you.’
“When you think about what all the teams have had to endure to get here, to deal with some of the things that we’ve had to deal with over the last three years, it would be a mistake not to give everything that we had to get the boat back out on the race course and in good working order. I think one of the biggest positives that we took out of yesterday was that you could see over the course of the race that the boat was going really well. We had plenty of speed.
“The beauty of our team is that there’s a high level of resolve, and what we’re going to see over the next eight to 10 days is the boat get rebuilt.”
“She might not come out of the shed as pretty, but she’s going to come out of the shed and we’re going to get back into racing.”
Hutchinson is clearly relieved that all crew members were safe and that the boat was kept afloat.
“We need to recognise the heroic effort by everybody in the Auckland community that came forward to rescue Patriot from despair. In particular the local authorities, the police, the fire and rescue, and then finally the competitors, Team New Zealand and INEOS and Luna Rossa. They were spectacular. When you think about that family, our sailing community, it was awesome to see the show of support.”
Following New York Yacht Club American Magic informing the Regatta Director that they will not be racing in Round Robins 3 and 4 of the Prada Cup this weekend, the racing schedule has been revised as follows.
Saturday 23 January 2021
LUNA ROSSA PRADA PIRELLI vs INEOS TEAM UK – Start at 16:00 NZT
Sunday 24 January 2021
INEOS TEAM UK vs LUNA ROSSA PRADA PIRELLI – Start at 16:00 NZT