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Dramatic Capsize in Stormy Prada Cup

Patriot's bow skies
Rumors were rampant that a problem with the running backstay sent Patriot airborne in a dramatic bear-away gone wrong.
© 2021 CoR36 / Studio Borlenghi

Dramatic Fashion

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.

Patriot on her side
Capsizes have now happened several times. American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson made specific reference to needing his knife to cut himself free, which harkens back to the Safety Recommendations that were put in place in 2013.
© 2021 CoR36 / Studio Borlenghi

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.

Crew works on boat
All the crew were immediately accounted for. Then it was all hands on deck.
© 2021 Gilles Martin Raget

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.

Group effort
The camaraderie from the other teams was more than apparent. It took an effort from not only the three other teams, but a host of Harbor Patrol and Coastguard officials as well to save the American Magic boat.
© 2021 CoR36 / Studio Borlenghi

“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.”

The Capsize

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.”

Patriot hauled out at night
A massive hole on Patriot, which was breached by the external impact of the hull hitting the water at maximum ferocity.
© 2021 CoR36 / Studio Borlenghi

“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.

Brittania at a mark
INEOS Team UK was reborn as advertised, going 4-0 in the first weekend of racing. They beat the Italians in this race by 18 seconds.
© 2021 Gilles Martin Raget

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.

Luna Rossa splashes down
The teams hit the Hauraki Gulf for the first time on Course A as strong storms moved across the racecourse leaving amazing images like this one of Luna Rossa in the midst of a massive splashdown.
© 2021 Gilles Martin-Raget

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.

See www.americascup.com.

5 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Ralph 2 months ago

    Is this the same boat they raced in the Christmas Regatta? Have we got a second boat?

    • Avatar
      Mark Reid 2 months ago

      This is the boat they raced in December. They have a second boat called Defiant which they are going to strip of its foil arm mechanism and also graft carbon fiber from that hull to repair the gaping hole on Patriot.

  2. Avatar
    Fin Beven 2 months ago

    This is really a question to those who think the race should have been “called”, because I do not know the answer. Would the oraganizing committees cancel an Indy 500 of a Formula One race because the weather changed after the start ? My guess is that most of the crew on these boats have seen far more varied conditions in their sailing careers. All the designers and engineers have to do is create boats that can finish the course.

    • Avatar
      Mark Reid 2 months ago

      I know the Indy 500 is run on a dry track. American Magic principal Roger Penske actually owns the track and the IndyCar Series. Over the years a few F1 races have been postponed or halted because of monsoon conditions. As far as yacht racing and the America’s Cup goes, I think we all welcome more wind and challenging conditions. Especially us Bay Area sailors. My contention with this past weekend’s races in Auckland for the Prada Cup was that several unstable heavy weather systems were forecast to pass through the race course area during the races. With this new America’s Cup Class 75 they are very fast and potentially very fragile and potentially dangerous. Race Day 3 (Sunday) was not the day to push the envelope and see if the foiling monohulls would survive unscathed. They didn’t. Potentially the other 2 teams could have suffered the same fate that Patriot did. Everyone wants to see these boats at speed, but the conditions this past weekend were extreme and a postponement was in order. But, as the teams noted, the conditions fell within the range of the rules. That doesn’t mean that Race Management should have gone forward.

  3. Avatar
    Michael Grant 2 months ago

    As AC continues to play to larger and larger audiences, this is what they want to see. Big wind and big risks, not cancelled races due to weather. Just one more challenge for AC teams in that they need to build a boat that is on the edge of the specs but still have some room for the unexpected. So happy to see that the crew was safe and sound.

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