Terry Hutchinson was taught a long time ago to be resilient, to be able to adjust to the shifting winds on the sea or, for that matter, in life.
It helped Hutchinson, who grew up in Annapolis and still has a home there, move up the ranks from crew member to tactician to skipper on boats that raced in everything from local regattas to the America's Cup.
Which is why Hutchinson, 44, seems to be less upset — at least on the surface — than others about the news that he had been fired Dec. 3 as the helmsman of the Artemis Racing Team's entry in the 2013 America's Cup.
Speaking for the first time publicly and still hesitant to talk about what he called "a hard decision for everybody," Hutchinson said in an interview with The Baltimore Sun that, like NFL and NBA coaches who get fired, "we're in a professional sport and I want to carry myself in a professional manner."
Responding to questions about Hutchinson's dismissal, Artemis CEO Paul Cayard wrote in an email Friday: "It was very hard to come to the conclusion that we needed to part ways. We feel this new afterguard configuration gives Artemis Racing the best chance to win the America's Cup in 2013."
Hall of Fame sailor and longtime mentor Gary Jobson's advice to Hutchinson was "don't get angry," telling him that the way he handles his controversial firing could help him get another high-profile job in a future America's Cup — though probably not with another boat in next summer's event in San Francisco.
"For Terry Hutchinson, it's a setback and disappointing," Jobson said Thursday. "But his fundamental sailing skill is extraordinary. He's a gifted athlete, he's driven, he has a long, long track record of doing well, and I'm quite sure that within the next year we're going to hear that Terry Hutchinson is back on his feet and winning some other things even though he won't be involved in this next America's Cup."
Not wanting to say anything that could jeopardize the terms of his release, Hutchinson said the past couple of weeks have been difficult for his family, which has accompanied him "through this pretty wild, exciting journey."
His oldest child, 13-year-old Elias, spent the first nine months of his life with his parents in New Zealand, where Hutchinson was serving as tactician on Team New Zealand, which won the 2000 America's Cup.
The most touching communication came from his 11-year-old daughter, Hutchinson said.
After returning to the home in the San Francisco suburbs where Hutchinson, his wife, Shelley, and their three children have lived for the past year, Katherine Hutchinson told her father, "I'm sorry you can't keep chasing your dream" of being the skipper of an America's Cup boat.
"It was one of those moments where I realized I've got this great family, I've got an overwhelming amount of support from friends in the sailing community, maybe I need to look a lot further than what's right in front of me to realize that there's something potentially better in store," said Hutchinson, who had also been the tactician on Dennis Conner's boat Stars & Stripes in the 2007 America's Cup.
The way Hutchinson has handled the firing is something he learned a long time ago from Jobson, who first took a then-14-year-old Hutchinson to a regatta in St.Petersburg, Fla., to be part of his crew. Jobson said they "spoke for about an hour" shortly after Hutchinson heard he was being fired.
While Jobson said dismissals such as the one involving Hutchinson happen all the time on America's Cup teams, this one is more than a little curious considering that Artemis had won the match-race portion of the inaugural America's Cup World Series circuit over the past year and had finished third overall.
"The odd thing was the timing. He had a pretty good World Series and he was doing better at the end, and the America's Cup is match racing and he was winning the match racing," Jobson said. "That's someone you would want in your camp. Usually the people getting the ax, they've lost six races in a row or you're about to get eliminated. It's like a [quarterback] who's thrown four interceptions and you want to get another guy."
Calling Hutchinson "an outstanding sailor and acclaimed match racer," Cayard said the decision wasn't based on results on the 45-foot catamarans used in the World Series, it was the shift to the new 72-foot boats that changed the team's strategy heading into San Francisco next summer.
"We know we need to develop our boat speed and handling techniques in the AC72 as quickly as possible, and our time is extremely limited," Cayard wrote in an email. "Further, no one knows if AC72s will be able to effectively match race midsummer in SF Bay. They are seriously overpowered boats. For these reasons, we have shifted our strategy and added a complement of experienced multihull and skiff sailors in Loick Peyron and Nathan Outteridge, to helm the boat."
'Not a pleasant situation'
It seems likely that Hutchinson will be watching the America's Cup next September from shore — likely on television — unless like an ex-football coach he gets moved into an analyst's role.
"It will be difficult. It's not a pleasant situation. I spent the last 13 years of my life chasing this, and to have this pulled from me, it's difficult at this time," said Hutchinson, a four-time world champion who was Rolex Yachtsman of the Year in 2008. "But I look at it as a speed bump in the road to where I'm going."
Asked whether he would entertain an offer between now and next September from another of the four America's Cup teams, Hutchinson seemed conflicted.
"If an opportunity was presented to me — we're at a critical time for all the teams — you would certainly listen and entertain an offer because it's an opportunity to be involved," he said. "My goal hasn't changed. I still want to win the America's Cup. But I also appreciate that all these teams are in an area of development where the last thing they need is a distraction."
As in most multimillion-dollar sports, politics might have played a part. When Hutchinson joined Artemis in 2010, he was the lone helmsman. After Outteridge won the gold medal in the 49er class in the London Olympics last summer, the 26-year-old Australian sailor was added as a second helmsman.
It didn't surprise Jobson, who was a part of five America's Cup teams.
"You actually want to have two really good helmsmen in camp when you have two boats to compete against each other," he said. "One thing I learned from Ted Turner racing years ago was you always want to have the best people available and never fear having good competition because everyone lifts their game."
Some thought Hutchinson was pushed aside in what has become a generational shift toward younger helmsmen such as Outteridge. Hutchinson believes that as long as a helmsman is physically fit, experience should be considered a plus.
"There's no question in my mind, sailing is a learned sport," he said. "I believe my best years are in front of me. There will be a time when I'll be just as competitive mentally, but maybe not physically. That time hasn't come yet. I'm not even close to being done."
Sport's shifting winds
But as the America's Cup boats get bigger and faster — next year's competition will feature catamarans that are to the water what Formula One racecars are to blacktop — even Jobson realizes that younger, stronger crew members could give a team an advantage.
"The athleticism required for these catamarans is pretty extraordinary," Jobson said. "Guys like Terry and Paul Cayard and some of these guys in their mid-40s and early 50s, some of them say, 'This is a hard boat.' Youth serves you well on a boat as energetic as a [72-foot catamaran]."
But Jobson is quick to add: "You still need to have some experience. Every America's Cup, it doesn't matter what kind of boats you're on, the most successful campaigns do a good job integrating young, fresh, athletic, inspired, skilled sailors with some veterans. Most of the good crews have some veterans around who have seen it all. It's like a football team that has those 35-year-old veterans in the locker room, the America's Cup is like that."
Wrote Cayard: "The AC72s are fast and powerful, requiring very quick reactions. Once a certain level of experience has been attained, it is generally a young man's game."
Along with resilience, Jobson has told Hutchinson to stay patient — the next America's Cup will be over sooner than he thinks.
"By the end of September next year, it's over," Jobson said. "Any group around the world contemplating putting together an America's Cup campaign, you're going to have a Terry Hutchinson on your short list of people you want to consider for tactician or helmsman."