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.