With their hopes set on the 36th America’s Cup in March, the U.S. Challenger racing in the 2021 Prada Cup couldn’t predict the disaster that would strike during Day 3.
American Magic’s 75-foot racing yacht Patriot had a strong start in high winds after falling short the first two days of racing in the Challenger Selection Series in New Zealand.
The team’s AC75 sailing hydrofoil monohull had just launched in October, with an estimated top speed around 50 knots.
The team was leading in the final leg of the race Sunday (Saturday on the U.S. East Coast), when a “significant puff of wind” sent the boat hurtling into the air with a hard re-entry into the water.
The shock of the landing tore a hole in the port-side hull and Patriot capsized sideways as race fans from all over the world watched live.
Once the yacht was righted, American Magic found it was sitting low in the water—beginning to sink. The crewmembers were quickly recovered safe, if a big bruised, by American Magic’s own emergency crew (the team has an EMT on staff).
However, it took several hours and a “herculean effort” by American Magic, Auckland, New Zealand’s rescue services, and even competitors’ teams, to save the boat. It was a 10.5 mile trip back to shore.
American Magic posted this race recap where you can see the horror of the crash and the huge response. Watch below:
“Obviously it’s not exactly the day that we wanted,” said Terry Hutchinson, Skipper and Executive Director of American Magic. “We had a good race going and the boat was going really well.”
Hutchinson is an Annapolis native who learned to race on the West River and still lives there with his own family. This is his fifth America’s Cup campaign.
Hutchinson says his team is strong, and after rebuilding the boat, vows to return in time for the semifinals of the Prada Cup. “It’ll be a big effort to get the boat to go sailing for the semis,” he says, “but the team’s committed to it.”
Tom Weaver, an Annapolis boatbuilder and former pro sailor who has been in touch with Hutchinson since the capsize, tells Bay Bulletin the team is lucky to have 11 days to make the fixes.
“Fixing the visible hole will be fairly straightforward; my concern will be the internal structure, particularly the parts that support the lifting foils,” Weaver says. “There are massive loads under normal circumstances, and to physically build up enough layers of carbon fiber under heat and vacuum pressure takes time.”
Weaver points out, “They are in probably the best place in the world for this to happen—New Zealand has a lot of expert carbon technicians.” The electrical systems, sensors and computers may pose another challenge, as the whole system would have to be recalibrated, Weaver says.
Despite the hurdles they’ll face, Hutchinson has faith in his team.
“Time and time again, American Magic has always responded to the adverse situations that we’ve been faced with, be it COVID-19 or other things we’ve come across in the last three years,” said Hutchinson. “This one is probably a bit of a larger challenge, but as always, how you get up is more important than how you get knocked down. I’m confident in us. I’m confident in our people.”
Weaver is similarly optimistic. “They can still get to the America’s Cup final. They will now be considered underdogs—that might suit them and everyone loves a good comeback story.”
As he points out, the America’s Cup’s history includes many other instances of broken or sunken boats, some even coming back to win the event, like Team New Zealand in Bermuda 2017.
-Meg Walburn Viviano