When Terry Hutchinson accepted the challenge of managing the American Magic campaign, he never imagined a worldwide pandemic would become part of the process.
Hutchinson’s carefully crafted plan for capturing the America’s Cup has been upended by the coronavirus crisis, which caused cancellation of two preparatory regattas and prompted the lone United States entry to essentially shut down operations for three months.
While admitting the pandemic has thrown a massive monkey wrench into this America’s Cup cycle, Hutchinson does not believe it has altered the overall competitive landscape. American Magic, one of three challenger syndicates, remains on course.
“Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation. However, all the teams are facing the same issue. If there’s been any sort of loss, it has been even across the board,” Hutchinson told The Capital in a telephone interview this week.
American Magic is seeking to return the Auld Mug to the United States by dethroning defending champion Team New Zealand. Skipper Glenn Ashby led the way as Team New Zealand defeated San Francisco-based Oracle Racing in the 35th America’s Cup, held off Bermuda in June 2017.
CEO Grant Dalton announced the 36th America’s Cup will be held in March 2021 out of Auckland, New Zealand. Team New Zealand named the Luna Rossa syndicate from Italy as Challenger of Record and announced the event would be contested in 75-foot foiling monohulls.
American Magic, representing the New York Yacht Club, became the second challenger when it announced the campaign in October 2017. John “Hap” Fauth, Doug DeVos and Roger Penske of auto racing fame are the principal founders of the syndicate with Hutchinson, an Anne Arundel County native, serving as skipper and executive director.
Hutchinson spent many years as sailing manager for a series of grand prix race boats owned by Fauth and DeVos, who hail from Minneapolis, Minnesota and Grand Rapids, Michigan, respectively. Penske, who resides in Bloomfield, Michigan, has owned auto racing teams since 1966 and his experience is valuable considering the boats being used for this America’s Cup have been likened to a Formula One car and feature numerous jet airplane characteristics.
American Magic selected Botin Partners as its boat designer. Founder Marcelino Botin, a legendary figure in sailboat racing circles, is lead designer. The Spaniard held the same role for Team New Zealand from 2004 through 2011.
American Magic decided to build its own boats and has repurposed the former Hall Spars mast-making facility in Bristol, Rhode Island to that end. Brandon Linton was brought aboard as boat construction manager and is overseeing the process.
Hutchinson did not want the 19-member sailing team idle while waiting for American Magic’s first AC75 to be built, so he had a regular 38-foot racing boat transformed into a foiling monohull. Nicknamed “The Mule,” the test boat provided a platform for the sailors to learn more about a discipline that never previously existed.
American Magic launched its first AC75 at its base in Bristol in September 2019 and the boat was christened by Hutchinson’s mother. After training for two months on Narragansett Bay, the team shifted operations to its base at the Port of Pensacola and sailed regularly from November through March.
“Our Florida facility was incredible because it was 10 minutes from off the dock to sailing,” Hutchinson said. “Pensacola Bay was a perfect body of water because of the flat sea state and surrounding low land.”
Fighter jets from Naval Air Station Pensacola flew overhead as the American Magic sailing team, led by helmsman Dean Barker, put Defiant through its paces in winds ranging from 6 to 23 knots. Latter is the upper wind limit for racing in the America’s Cup and usually meant 28 knots of breeze at the masthead.
Hutchinson would not reveal Defiant’s boat speed in such conditions, simply saying “if you were driving down Rowe Boulevard we would easily pass you.”
American Magic logged 40 days on the water in the AC75 before packing it up for shipment to Sardinia, Italy for the first event of the America’s Cup World Series. The Cagliari Regatta, scheduled for April 23-25, was canceled in late March. The Portsmouth Regatta, scheduled for June 4-7, was also nixed.
Hutchinson does not lament the loss of the two America’s Cup World Series events, which would have marked the first time the four registered syndicates squared off. Defending Team New Zealand was slated to participate along with American Magic, Luna Rossa and Team Ineos of Great Britain.
“They were preseason games. It was an opportunity to baseline yourself against the competition and every team missed that opportunity,” he said. “While we missed the chance to get a benchmark for our efforts to date, we never stopped moving forward. We continued to work, design and build.
“From America’s Magic viewpoint, losing those two regattas does not have any real impact on the outcome of the America’s Cup,” the lifelong Harwood resident added.
Hutchinson said American Magic was fortunate its AC75 had not been shipped to Italy before the Cagliari Regatta was canceled. The shore crew simply unpacked the containers and put the boat into a state of readiness for additional on-water training.
However, the coronavirus pandemic worsened in early April and the syndicate leadership decided to shut down operations out of an abundance of caution. “We went into a holding pattern with the focus on managing the health and safety of every team member,” Hutchinson said.
Since the two World Series events in Europe were off, Hutchinson changed gears and chose to ship Defiant to New Zealand. She was loaded onto a container ship on May 27 and is due to arrive in Auckland next week.
American Magic’s second boat is currently under construction at the Bristol facility and is set to be flown by cargo plane to Auckland on Aug. 31.
New Zealand, like almost all countries, has imposed travel restrictions for foreigners and that has prevented most of the American Magic team members from relocating there. Hutchinson, a 1986 graduate of St. Mary’s High, has been home in Harwood since mid-May.
“New Zealand has done a really good job of managing an extremely difficult situation and we’re being very respectful of that process,” he said. “We are waiting for the green light to go and will hit the ground running whenever we get into New Zealand.”
American Magic has 10 New Zealand natives on its team, and they have returned home and gone through the mandatory quarantine process. They with the assistance of contractors are constructing the syndicate’s base in Waitemata Harbour and will unpack the containers currently being shipped.
Hutchinson hopes to be sailing Defiant by late July with two-boat testing starting whenever the second boat arrives.
“Not having the distraction of all the logistics involved with having to compete in those two (World Series) regattas enabled us to focus on other areas. Our designers never stopped, our boat-building in Bristol never stopped,” Hutchinson said of the pandemic’s impact on the campaign.
“Whenever the sailing time comes, I’m confident the team will get up to speed in short order. Based off the planning performed in December, American Magic is doing right now what it was supposed to be doing. We’re right on schedule,” he added.
Team New Zealand will host the Christmas Cup, which was supposed to be the final event of the America’s Cup World Series and is now the only one, Dec. 17-20. The Prada Challenger Selection Series begins in mid-January, while the America’s Cup finals will start on March 6.