Terry Hutchinson: Waving the USA Flag

Published on October 9th, 2017

Terry Hutchinson has accrued a track record of being a winner. He gets involved in big-time keelboat racing programs and makes them better. It is now through his work as tactician for Hap Fauth’s Maxi72 Bella Mente and Doug DeVos’s TP52 Quantum Racing that has brought these two successful owners together, alongside New York Yacht Cup, to challenge for the 36th America’s Cup. Here Terry discusses this new campaign.

Let’s start with some background.

It’s an incredible opportunity in front of us. I’m incredibly mindful of the history and the tradition that the New York Yacht Club has for the event, and so from the team side, it’s an honor to be a part of New York’s effort in this 36th America’s Cup.

This campaign probably started five years ago with Doug, and three years ago with Hap, as our sailing relationships have evolved over that period of time. When it became obvious that Team New Zealand was going to win, and after having discussions with them and their Challenger of Record where they indicated what they were going to do with the boat, it seemed like an opportunity to at least sit down and discuss if this was a challenge we wanted to take on.

The more myself, and Doug, and Hap talked about it, the more it became apparent how our goals were aligned in what we wanted to do, what we wanted the team to look like, and if we’re fortunate enough to be successful partnering with New York, to make the next match another step towards what we feel is represented in the sport. To get to this point has been about six month’s worth of work and it’s just on the front side of a lot more.

But I think when I look at our team and where we’re at, we have a lot of great sailing infrastructure already in place, and that component of the program has been operating at a reasonably high level for just over the better part of five years.

So under Hap’s and Doug’s leadership, they’re helping us get the business infrastructure in place and I think Hap summed it up best when he said, “Being successful in the America’s Cup is as much of a sailing venture, as it is a business venture,” and so it’s going to take an absolute team effort from all of us to be successful.

Any particular vision for the team?

For starters, we have two great principals. We have Doug and Hap. Then we have a third partner with the New York Yacht Club. But we are going to need to continue to find commercial and private funding to help support this challenge. Additionally, an important point to make is how this is going to be a US team. It’s a US flag team.

When you travel and you race the 52s or the 72s, you realize there is a massive gap in sailors from my generation, or slightly behind, to people in their early twenties. So as a team, we want to return the America’s Cup back to the base of our sport and garner support in that manner. In all of our minds, we want to represent the United States in the manner we feel is appropriate and do it through hard work and good results on the race course.

Is the team going to be 100% American? Probably not, but again, it’s going to be born and bred here. The way the Protocol is written right now, the sailing team must be comprised of 20% nationals and 80% have to be residents. I’m expecting the residency clause to be a pretty difficult to achieve by bringing in outsiders, so our goal is to have a team that is US based and using and developing sailors in our country.

When you talk about winning and then defending in the grand scheme of things, if we’re successful enough on the water this is time around, the goal would be to have developed a team of younger sailors that can then defend it. If you think about it in the big picture world, if it’s a nine-year cycle, I will have probably aged out of it by then. And that’s why we have to do a good enough job developing the younger generation.

That’ll likely be a combination of American sailors and international sailors, but as the skipper of the team and as an American, my feelings and thoughts are in this is going to be an American team. Is every single person going to be an American citizen? Probably not, but we’re going to definitely wave the flag proudly.

Any details at this time about team members?

It’s a bit too soon for specifics but I will say that my role is team skipper and not helm…. though in the America’s Cup you never say never. If you break down the timeline, and start working backwards from when the actual match, there’s not a lot of sailing time in the boat itself. But there’s some great young American sailors right now pursuing various avenues, so there’s a lot of talent that we have to go and cultivate and see who is going to be the right fit for this campaign.

It’s pretty simple when the underlying agenda is winning, which it is, and then doing it in a manner that’s going to make us all proud. When you work backwards from there then the cream will rise to the top. We just have to make sure that we then have a structure in place that allows us to pick the best sailors and execute on the day.

What do we know about the boat?

In all the discussions that we’ve had with the defender, we have a sense of the direction but it’s premature to know the full scope as there are a lot of variables that need to get addressed. The challenge for the organizers is how they want to make sure they have a great event that has participation and that brings people to New Zealand, and that brings the event back to where the base of the sport feels like it should be. Within all that the America’s Cup needs to maintain its position as the pinnacle of the sport.

So this is a tricky challenge. They want participants, they need to control the costs so it doesn’t become a ridiculous arm’s race, yet it needs to be the pinnacle of our sport. Having been in the loop of the conversations and email exchanges with Grant Dalton, I see clearly how he’s in a tough spot. While he’s in a great spot because he just won the thing, but he has got a great responsibility as well. I know they’re not taking any of it lightly.

What have been some of the lessons you’ve learned in the past that are now directing you out of the blocks?

With regard to the game itself, you can make extremely complicated, so lesson number one is to seek simplicity and focus on the priorities which is to design a fast boat and race it well with good people. If you keep those principles you can make it an easier game.

Significant to keeping it simple is getting the right people for the job. As I’ve evolved in my sailing, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be tactician for some really great teams, and what you learn in those experiences in how vital it is to have the right people for the jobs ashore and on the water. So we will be focused on bringing together those people.

One of the strengths for Bella Mente and Quantum Racing programs is to have great teams from bow to stern, where everybody works hard and respects the process that’s in place. We have a great system sailing where we evaluate our performance each day and we critique it and we go back out and we do the same thing the next day. We look forward to continuing this approach with this new campaign.

When the club announced this challenge, Hap made mention to how the event would now embody “a more traditional style of yacht and the windward-leeward courses with which the vast majority of racing sailors are intimately familiar…” Does this infer the America’s Cup got off track with the previous few additions?

I wouldn’t say it went off track. In fact, I’d say there was some great things as a show. The last America’s Cup, as a visual spectator, was pretty darn impressive. The organization did a really good job of producing a broadcast product that was pretty exciting to watch.

However, I’m not sure it’s the vision I would’ve followed but that’s not really my position to say because we weren’t in their situation. They followed what they thought was a correct vision to take sailing to a different part of the sport. And that’s what they did. Team New Zealand has won it now and as competitors we follow their vision.

Four years from now, if we’re fortunate enough to be the defender, our vision will likely be a variation of several of the recent America’s Cup. But without question, the vision going forward is to do what we can to broaden our sport.

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