We’ll Be Back - American Magic’s Dramatic Capsize and Work Ahead

Herculean Effort To Get American Magic Team Back on Water After Capsize

After a dramatic capsizing over the weekend, American Magic skipper vows to “live to fight another day” as the team undertakes a Herculean effort to get the American entry in the America’s Cup back on the water in time to compete in the Prada Semifinals.

Winless in their first three Prada Cup Round Robin Races, Team American Magic attempted a controversial tacking maneuver at the top of the final mark hoping to put an end to their scoring drought with a decisive victory over Italy’s Luna Rossa.

The US boat, Patriot, initiated a tack bear away just as it was lifted off its foils by a savage gust of wind just ahead of a looming rain squall, causing the AC75 to first crash violently into the water and roll slowly onto its port side with the full extent of its 1560 square foot mainsail lying flat above the waves. At times the boat was in danger of sinking.

All crew are safe. The full extent of the damage to the boat has yet to be determined. Photos show a sizeable hole in the port side of the hull which was caused by the shock of the landing.

American Magic's Patriot capsized in the Prada Cup leading up to the America's Cup. Photo courtesy of New York Yacht Club, Studio Borlenghi.

Chase boats the from the US syndicate as well as help from other America’s Cup teams and Coast Guard vessels rushed to the aid of the stricken yacht which was seen to be sinking by the bow. Pumps were deployed, and thus began a nearly five-hour battle to keep the boat afloat and eventually tow it stern-to the 10 miles back to its base.

“It was pretty hairball,” American magic skipper Terry Hutchinson said. “It felt like we were minutes away from sinking.”      

American Skipper Terry Hutchinson at post-capsize press conference in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo Sailing Energy

After following well-practiced capsize procedures and determining that all were safe, American Magic righted the yacht to discover that she was sitting low in the water. It was apparent that this was a much different scenario than the team’s previous AC75 capsize, which occurred with the team’s now-retired first AC75, Defiant.

“We knew something was wrong straight away,” said Hutchinson. “When we tipped Defiant over, the boat was pretty buoyant and sat pretty high on her side. When we righted Defiant, and as we saw with Team New Zealand a few days ago when they righted their boat, the recovery was instantaneous. As soon as you get the breeze underneath the boat, underneath the mainsail, the boat pops back up.”

Rescue efforts underway for Patriot in Auckland. Photo courtesy of New York Yacht Club, Studio Borlenghi

“Today on Patriot, when I was getting out of my cockpit, we were lower in the water. The ‘pop-up’ wasn't happening. So that was kind of the first indication. [Boat Captain] Tyson [Lamond] came through the comms saying, ‘I think there's a hole in the boat.’ We spent the next couple of hours securing the platform.”

Stabilizing Patriot after the dramatic capsize in Auckland, New Zealand, during the Prada Cup. Photo Sailing Energy

Your reporter watched live video of the unfolding drama in amazement at the calm demeanor exhibited by American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson and helmsman Dean Barker as they supervised the rescue effort standing at times in knee-deep water on the stricken boat. Divers could be seen attaching floatation devices to the boat and pumps, once primed (which seemed to be a problem) issued a steady gush of water. When the boat finally arrived at its base around midnight New Zealand time all that was visible above the waterline was the 87-foot mast.

At a press conference the day after the incident, Hutchinson recalled the dramatic conditions aboard the stricken boat. “We cut ourselves out of our cockpits and ended up under the sail. The conditions were deteriorating rapidly. The boat was taking on more water than we could pump out.”

Hutchinson credits the sailing community for the collaborative work that ultimately saved his boat.

Sorting out equipment at the American Magic base. Photo Sailing Energy

"At the time, it felt like the boat was going to sink. We were doing everything we possibly could to prevent that from happening. Everybody around us, from the other teams to the local authorities helped us get the pumps in the boat, and we ended up with 16 pumps inside the boat. We had a jib wrapped around the hole. And then the fire and rescue [units] deployed what I would categorize as two 'airplane-style' life rafts that we wrapped underneath the bow of the boat and inflated. That really that stopped the bleeding, from that moment on."

That collaboration extended to the delivery of pizzas and soft drinks as the crew prepared for the long slog back to the dock.

Hutchinson said that the work to rebuild Patriot had already begun. “We will rely on local resources for the macro things like repairing the hull and we will undertake the micro elements ourselves.” In addition to repairing the hole in the hull, all of the boat’s electronics will have to be replaced. At this time, Hutchinson believes the boat’s hydraulics are intact.

Patriot being transported to base. Note hole in port side of hull. Photo courtesy of New York Yacht Club, Studio Borlenghi.

Hutchinson has a goal to “have the boat rebuilt and ready to go intime for us to compete in the Prada Semifinals. “We have 11 days to get her up and running…and we’d like to go sailing before then as well.”

 It will be an all-hands-on-deck effort involving the combined resources of the American Magic syndicate as well as significant help from the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand and the local resources available to the sailing community. As a true testimony to the family feel of the international racing community it was heartening to see Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling working alongside Terry and crew as they all struggled against the elements to keep Patriot afloat.

SpinSheet asked Terry if he could forecast the amount of time on the water the team might get after repairs are complete: “It is my intention to put the boat back in the same condition we left it yesterday. It might look a little different… it’s too early to suggest when we can get the team back on the water. We have a hard deadline of a week from Friday to be on the line at the Semis. When we go out racing in less than 12 days we will be as prepared as we can be.”

Patriot headed around top mark at time of capsize. Photo courtesy of New York Yacht Club, Studio Borlenghi

A decision has been made not to attempt to compete in the remaining Round Robin races. The current race count shows Ineos Team UK ahead with four points followed by Team Luna Rossa with 2. At the time of the capsize, American Magic had not accumulated any points.

The Prada Semifinals, starting on Jan 29, will pit the winner of the Round Robin Round (either Ineos Team UK or Italy’s Luna Rossa) against the American boat and the boat which came in second in the Round Robin round. This is a first-to-four wins series that will determine which boat will compete in the Prada Finals against the Prada Round Robin winner. The Prada Finals are slated to begin on February 13. This is a best of 13 series of races with the first boat which wins 7 races advancing as the Challenger in the America’s Cup finals which start on March 6.

Despite some second-guessing regarding the decision to make the tack at speed on the lefthand side of the course and questions regarding Hutchinson’s dual role as grinder and tactician, the Annapolis native does not foresee any changes in crew responsibilities when the boat next goes out on the water.

“Dean has ice water in his veins. I put my life in his hands. He’s our man. The beauty of our team is that there's a high level of resolve, and I think 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. When you walk around and you look at everybody in the face and you look everybody in the eyes, you get a sense that we're going to do whatever it takes.’

By Craig Ligibel

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