All the pieces to the puzzle
In the week that the NYYC American Magic’s AC75 'Patriot' returned to the water in Pensacola, Florida we checked in with Terry Hutchinson – the team’s skipper and president of sailing operations
Although, happily, the American Magic base had been safely out of reach of the devastation caused when Hurricane Ian cut a swathe through South Florida recently, on the day of our interview an imminent line of thunderstorms had meant the postponement of the team’s first actual sailing day of its America’s Cup 37 campaign.
“In an hour or so it’s going to be thunder and lightning and everything,” Hutchinson told me. “So we are back in the shed today and we will be back at it tomorrow and the next day.”
A day’s sailing lost to the weather is all part of the game when it comes to professional yacht racing campaigns, but as Hutchinson pointed out, we were speaking exactly two years prior to the scheduled first day of AC37 racing in Barcelona, Spain.
Famously in the America’s Cup the most precious commodity is time – and Hutchinson is already counting down the days in his head. “Today we are 729 days to the start of AC37, so we don’t have a lot of time,” he said.
After the disappointment of being the first team to be eliminated from the 36th America’s Cup cycle in New Zealand the team went through an intense year-long debrief process to identify what lessons could be learned for the AC37 campaign.
After waiting for the announcement of the time and venue of the next edition to be made the US syndicate set about moving their assets from Auckland back to their base in Pensacola. This included of course their fateful AC75 Patriot, which – after almost sinking in the Hauraki Gulf after a brutal capsize during the Challenger Series – arrived in Pensacola in June this year and has since undergone a major refit.
Hutchinson described the decision to return to Pensacola to train rather than join Alinghi in Barcelona or find another Mediterranean venue as a no-brainer.
“We receive an overwhelming amount of support from the community here and you can see the long term vision with sailing and really the natural amphitheatre that Pensacola Bay provides us.
“We have a longer term view on how we can help develop not only sailing but the marine trade inside the United States and really help re-establish that culture. That’s exciting, because it’s a great opportunity.”
Like all the teams American Magic has been monitoring the progress of the Swiss challenger Alinghi Red Bull Racing as they get to grips with their first AC75 on the waters off Barcelona.
“What you learn from watching the recon of Alinghi sailing in Barcelona is that it is very much different to the harbour in New Zealand.
“The Challengers have a lot of work ahead of them because we are going to have to race first [in the Challenger Series] at a different period to the actual America’s Cup Match.
“When you look at what those guys are sailing in now, it’s like holy cow, that is not easy to sail an AC75 in. So it is going to be challenging and whoever gets the special conditions that match their equipment over that two-and-a-half week window probably wins the regatta.”
Hutchinson was pleased to report that over 50 per cent of the team’s staff from AC36 had signed on again, providing continuity in the key mechatronics and hydraulics teams that make up most of the systems inside the American boat.
But, there are also some new faces around the American Magic base since the last Cup.
As well as new lead design coordinator Scott Ferguson, two Luna Rossa foil designers – Mario Caponnetto and Davide Tagliapietra – are also now on the books, as are legendary hull designers Pete Melvin and Brit Ward.
Mike Cazer, previously CFO of GE and COO at Amway, has been brought in as CEO at American Magic – one of the multiple responsibilities that previously rested on Hutchinson’s shoulders.
This move, Hutchinson said, was ‘a positive step’ and meant he no longer needed to ‘have his fingers in all the pieces of the pie’.
“As much as anything it’s about supporting the operation and supporting the mission. I have the utmost trust in Doug and Hap [Fauth – American Magic co-founder] and their experience in the business world. Mike’s role is to support the business side of the operation and American Magic’s role in developing and promoting the sport inside the United States.”
Relieved of that onerous workload Hutchinson has been freed to focus on his role as the team’s president of sailing operations and skipper.
“Truly, though those are just words,” he commented. “It will be my ability to support the sailors and to help with the racing side of things as we go forward that is important. We all have to be accountable for ourselves and for our jobs.”
Another new addition to the American Magic lineup is coach Tom Burnham – an American sailor with whom Hutchinson had previously sailed aboard DeVos’ Quantum Racing TP52.
Burnham replaces James Lyne who earlier this year was announced as high performance coach for the US Olympic Sailing Team but remains as coach for both Quantum Racing and Fauth’s Maxi 72 Bella Mente.
The big news of the summer though was American Magic’s long-rumoured signing of Australian Olympic Laser gold medallist and America’s Cup winner Tom Slingsby as a foil for Britain’s Paul Goodison – also a Laser Olympic gold medallist – who has returned for his second American Magic campaign.
The pair were fierce rivals in the Laser class in the early 2000s when Goodison won the 2008 Olympics despite the (at that point) double world champion Slingsby being the hot favourite.
Having Slingsby and Goodison sharing the helming would be a dream combination for any team and it appears highly likely that the Americans will incorporate a dual helmsman setup into the design parameters for their next AC75.
“I don’t think you would have Tom Slingsby and Paul Goodison on your team and not have them helming the boat,” Hutchinson said, adding with a laugh: “Not unless you just wanted to watch a good dust up in the parking lot.”
As exciting as American Magic’s dynamic duo undoubtedly is, Hutchinson was also keen to emphasise the critical nature of the team component in the syndicate’s second attempt to return the America’s Cup to the United States.
“It is awesome to have Tom and Goody. The résumés that they bring and the success that they have had demonstrate that they both know how to win.
“But if all the pieces to the puzzle around them aren't right – if the team around them isn't right – we probably don't win, because it's not all on one person. As always with these things, you win as a team and you lose as a team.
“Our challenge is developing that team chemistry and getting those guys to a point where, on the day, they can let their talents shine. We know and they know that they have it inside of them to do this and really it is up to the larger group and to the team to support that and to help that along.”
NYYC American Magic is the first team I am aware of to have ordered two of the new AC40 one-designs. The prospect of Goodison and Slingsby dogfighting with each other in match race training is beyond mouthwatering. You could probably sell tickets.
Hutchinson said the decision to purchase an extra AC40 came as a direct result of the team’s perceived lack of race training during AC36.
“We can hide that behind Covid, but, without question, we expected more out of ourselves on the day – and there's no getting around that fact. So we are ticking that box to make sure, as we go forward, we give ourselves the proper time to develop.
“Winning an in-house race is going to be harder because the guys are going to just be that much more switched on and there's going to be that much more at stake – because people are going to be fighting for their jobs.”
Overall, Hutchinson declared himself happy with the makeup of his team as they take their first proper steps down the long road that leads to the 37th America’s Cup.
“We have this whole slew of great experience married with youthful enthusiasm,” he said. “It is up to all of us to elevate and teach and remind ourselves how difficult it is when the boat goes in the water – we need to be tuned in to that fact.
“We have to approach each day like our life depended on it – that’s an ethos that Doug and our supporters have instilled in us and we need to take it seriously.
“We have an incredible opportunity in front of us – as we did in AC36. Everything happens for a reason and we need to use that experience to push us forward.”