How do you describe the indescribable? A weekend that began with the highest of hopes for American Magic, who were riding high with an impressive performance in last month’s races, descended into the depths of despair with a nightmare capsize that, barring a miraculous rise from the ashes, has in all probability ended the $150 million-dollar New York Yacht Club challenge in dramatic fashion.
Video courtesy of America’s Cup Event / NBC Sports
American Magic CEO and skipper Terry Hutchinson put on a brave face in front of the media last night, trying to come to grips with the reality that their beautiful, blazingly fast rocket ship has been virtually destroyed. “The beauty of our team is that there is a high level of resolve,” said Hutchinson. “I think what we are going to see over the next 8-10 days is the boat get rebuilt. She may not come out of the shed as pretty, but she is going to come out of the shed, and we are going to get back into racing.”
In a spectacular conclusion to a stormy afternoon on the Hauraki Gulf, American Magic’s Patriot catapulted and capsized in a big gust on a failed bear-away jibe while rounding the fifth and final gate. They had enjoyed a commanding lead.
A Heroic Effort
The jet-black AC75 almost sank. If not for the heroic efforts of Patriot’s crew and their support team aboard the chase boats, Patriot would have surely lost her battle against the rising seascape and plunged to a watery grave at the bottom of the racecourse.
They were aided valiantly by members of Emirates Team New Zealand, including helmsman Peter Burling, who were out on the course watching, and numerous Coastguard, AC race officials and New Zealand patrol boats that quickly arrived on the scene. The combined efforts were not in vain. They placed more than 16 water pumps into the sinking boat and managed an amazing rescue.
“We need to recognize 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 our competitors,” said Hutchinson. “They were spectacular. When you think about that family, our sailing community, it was awesome to see the show of support.”
American Magic had stumbled at the start by arriving late after a last-minute sail change, but had recovered quickly to sail a brilliant race, until… “We struggled through that maneuver because we got a puff at about the same time we were bearing off, and we were accelerating,” explained Hutchinson. “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.
“If you look at the boat speed through the trajectory of the turn, we were going 47 knots. Inside the boat there is transverse structure and then longitudinal structure. The boat popped quite a wheelie, the leeward foil came out of the water, and we got a reasonable amount of bow altitude up. Then the boat slammed down. It’s fine if it lands flat on its keel, but if it lands on its side… Basically the structure inside the yacht just guillotined the panel, and out it popped.”
“We were fortunate that we got both batteries out of the boat and that all the hydraulic fluid inside the yacht stayed inside the yacht,” commented Hutchinson. “It’s a closed system. At the time, it felt like the boat was going to sink. We had a jib wrapped around the hole and then the fire and rescue units deployed what I would categorize as two airplane-style liferafts that we wrapped underneath the bow of the boat and inflated. That really stopped the bleeding.”
The Actual Racing
Lost but not forgotten in the midst of American Magic’s dramatic capsize is the fact that INEOS Team UK dominated the weekend and put itself at the top of the leaderboard with a commanding 4-0 record. They’re on track to receive a crucial bye and a path directly to the Prada Cup Finals.
The day before turned into a maddening game of connecting the dots, or puffs, in light air edging 6.5 knots, which dipped to as low as 3 knots on parts of the minefield of a racecourse. It was a bizarre weekend to say the least. Challenging, yes. Entertaining, possibly. Suitable for the event? No. It was questionable at best whether these ‘races’ should have been ‘sailed’ under conditions that varied from little or no breeze to the complete polar opposite of the wind range.
These teams have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get here. They deserve fair race days. Unfortunately, American Magic paid a potentially catastrophic price. This isn’t being a bad sport; the last couple of days were bad for the sport.
Oakland Marinas harbormaster, Brock de Lappe, has been working for years to protect the Oakland Estuary from illegal anchor-outs and environmental degradation caused by sinking and abandoned vessels. We’ve written about the results of his efforts and the broader estuary challenges in the past, but it remains a recurring problem. Brock sent in a couple of recent photos of a new crop of anchor-outs, including one sinking right near the bridge to Coast Guard Island and the recently destroyed Cryer Boatyard.
Clearly, the Bay Area has a housing crisis. Just as clearly to most people, solving homelessness with illegal anchorages filling up with aging and poorly maintained vessels is not the solution. As with homelessness throughout the Bay Area, the agencies and people responsible for clearing up the problems seem overwhelmed and ill-equipped to solve them. Currently, clearing out abandoned vessels and illegal anchor-outs is a wash, rinse, repeat cleaning cycle.
Deep in the Oakland Estuary, Coast Guard Island provides weather protection for the anchored-out boats. Yet this is not primarily the Coast Guard’s problem. However, their description of their mission reads as follows: “The Coast Guard is the principal Federal agency responsible for maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship in U.S. ports and waterways.” You could see sinking boats and illegal anchorages as a threat to both the environment and maritime safety, but hard to solve in the murky boundaries between agencies. However, it is the Oakland and Alameda police who are charged with protecting and managing these problems on the Estuary.
Other California harbors, such as San Diego, pictured above, have well-managed mooring fields that create the opportunity for some to live ‘on the hook’ and additional less expensive mooring options. As Brock notes, “There is no legal anchorage anywhere in the Oakland Estuary. The boats can become a hazard to navigation, and just allowing boats like this to anchor, sink, pollute, and generally intrude on public waterways creates a dangerous situation for all.” Mooring fields can be a great solution for both long-term and short-term recreational usage. They could provide revenue for cities to help clean up the boats falling into disrepair and sinking in the Bay.
In the meantime, Brock and a community of businesses along the Oakland Estuary have been working closely with the local police to solve the problems, including contributing office space for a new, local Oakland police substation. These businesses have chipped in to help clean up the Oakland coastline and waterways by helping support the Oakland Police Department: Brooklyn Basin, Motel 6, Conley Family LP, Homewood Suites, Executive Inn, Cook Natural Products, Oakland Marinas, Bay Yachts, Miller Milling, and Hager Pacific Properties.
The Bay Area’s homeless situation is way beyond local harbormasters and law enforcement’s scope and abilities. Still, homelessness needs to be solved somehow, while also keeping the Bay and Estuary’s magnificent coastline and waterways clear for all boaters to enjoy.
We realize the season for lighted boat parades has passed, but this is still relevant and interesting. Joe Headley sent us a video of a hard surge running through the harbor in Monterey, to demonstrate the good sense involved in postponing a recent year’s lighted boat parade.
“A number of years back, I sent out a press release, which you kindly put out in your updates. As the Lighted Boat Parade director for Monterey, it fell to me to make the decision to postpone the parade due to “hard surges.” I subsequently received quite a few inquiries as to what that was.
“Well, I did capture this video the other day — it explains what a hard surge looks like in our harbor. It takes place when we have a large long-period swell. One can see why just getting in and out of your slip in the dark, let alone driving around night-blinded by your boat’s decorations, was deemed problematic.”
Here’s another useful article from The Resourceful Sailor series, in which we discover how Joshua Wheeler took apart and resealed his boat’s leaky portlights.
The windowpane seals and gaskets on the opening portlights of Sampaguita, my 1985 Pacific Seacraft Flicka 20, were showing age. A few were seeping around the panes. At first, it was daunting to consider taking these oval, bronze portlights apart. They keep the Pacific Northwest rains out of the boat. However, a stitch in time saves nine.
Research did not turn up precise how-to instructions, but helped narrow my options. Pacific Seacraft has a service to rebuild them at around $335 each, plus shipping and tax. With their expertise, I suspect they do an outstanding job. Or, I could take a chance on myself, order supplies for around $150 to refit all six, invest the sweat equity, and learn something in the process. Since you are reading this, you know I chose the latter. In my case, the seals between the frames and the cabin top were still good, so this focuses only on the opening, hinged portlights. It was a discovery process, and I was uncertain what I would find, so I removed and rebuilt one portlight at a time.
Detaching them from the frames was intuitive and fast. I then placed the portlight on my workspace, outer gasket up. This gasket formed the watertight seal with the frame, and its removal was required to access the pane inside. It also destroyed it.
These screws were 4-32 x 1/4 inch or 4-32 x 3/8 inch. What I found was a mix, though the 3/8-inch rarely fit well. I removed these. A bedding compound was used under the retainer to seal the windowpane in the portlight. My ring and pane either popped right out or required prying, or a fine blade, to break the seal.
With the pane removed, I used acetone, a box knife, a razor blade, a screwdriver, sandpaper, time, and elbow grease to clean all the surfaces.
I chose a black silicone-polyurethane hybrid for the new sealant, banking on compression more than adhesion to seal the panes. I liberally added this to the pane’s frame, gently laid the glass in, added more sealant on top, filling in any spaces, and put the retaining ring in place. Using new 1/4-inch brass screws, unless 3/8-inch fit properly, I started their threading, careful not to squeeze out all the sealant, and leaving room to tighten them later. I let this cure for at least 24 hours, then drove in all the screws and trimmed away the excess sealant on both sides of the pane.
Unable to source outer gaskets, I did find 3/8-inch square silicone rubber bar stock. I cut it to fit the retaining ring, using a jig to trim the ends at 45-degree angles, creating a scarf joint for a better seal. Using the same hybrid sealant, I bedded the ring, focusing on the bottom and inside edges, then laid the rubber bar in, sealing in the scarf joint on the top of the portlight.
I immediately reinstalled the porthole in the frame, using the Allen-wrench adjustments to ensure a square fit and compression. I used rags to clean any sealant that was squeezed out on both sides and let it cure. After a couple of days, I used pressurized water to test the seals. I was fortunate enough not to have any leakers.
If you take on this project, there are some aesthetics to consider. Sampaguita appears to have the original two-pane safety glass windows. Mine had some cloudiness around the edges from moisture ingress. I researched the replacement of these with new glass or acrylic but ultimately decided to reuse the old ones. Next, if you like bright and shiny, the bronze frames and portholes could be polished more easily when disassembled. Also, the silicone bar stock that my source offered came only in red. Black may be available from a different vendor.
As with most boat projects, expect complications. If your panes have been leaking for a while, the brass screws holding the retaining ring may have dezincified. Of my six portholes, two panes had this issue with the lowest two screws. Three out of four, the heads came off, but I was able to use penetrating oil and pliers to remove the shafts. The fourth was more of a production as it broke off inside the frame and required me to drill it out, and later, re-tap the hole to a 5-40 size. The larger screw also meant some machining to the retaining ring and the screw itself to ensure a good fit. That one fastener was the most complicated part of the whole job. Also, the tedious chore of cleaning the surfaces will depend on the sealing compounds used previously. Mine had a couple of different materials and tenacities.
As a sailor and not a professional shipwright, I am not an authority on how best to repair these portlights. I felt capable of doing the job, and it was apparent the savings on labor would be significant. As with many things, the fear of the unknown is often the biggest block. I’m hoping this will remove some of the mystery of the job for those courageous enough to give it a go. For boaters who want to have big adventures with small budgets, The Resourceful Sailor presents insight on how that might be possible. Remember, keep your solutions prudent and safe, and have a blast.