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American Magic: On a mission of mercy

Published on January 23rd, 2020

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
Terry Hutchinson walked me through the mobile office trailer toward a doorway giving entrance to the game room – my name, not theirs. On the wall were monitors displaying an AC75 match race in which teammates Dean Barker and Andrew Campbell were at the controls in this virtual heat.

As the Skipper & Executive Director of American Magic, the America’s Cup challenge from New York Yacht Club, Hutchinson was sharing a view of their effort to capture the 36th edition of this historic competition.

Barker and Campbell were in the countdown to the start, with “boat” performance matching what the team has accrued from their actual boat Defiant, and the race course resembling what they anticipate to be the layout for the America’s Cup. While missing the spray of the water and the force of the wind, the gain is in recognizing what works and what doesn’t, and filing away those mental snapshots for when it counts.

I had come to witness the American Magic team in their Florida residence of Pensacola, but this would be all the “sailing” for the day. The schedule on Pensacola Bay had been thwarted by foil arm issues, a situation Hutchinson sees all teams facing, but as cold weather battered the region, this miscue saved me from a high-speed RIB ride with wind-chill in the 20s.

While detail to aero drag would have kept the sailors out of the arctic air, I would have come back colder than Pensacola’s signature Bushwaker frozen cocktail.

This was the second winter the team had relocated south from their Rhode Island base, and as options go, it’s hard to imagine a better one. An AC team needs space and they found it amid the 50 acres controlled by the Port of Pensacola. Once beyond the Port’s militant security detail, the footprint readily holds their workout facility, meal area, sail loft, offices, and maintenance shed.

But as extreme projects go, and the 36th America’s Cup with its other-worldly foiling AC75 monohull is pretty damn extreme, the USA team remain in the shade of their adjacent neighbor, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin’s 600-foot ship being repurposed for rockets to land on in the Atlantic Ocean.

While an AC Team needs a pile of money, that’s tip change to a project estimated to be spending US$1 billion per year.

All this firepower sits on an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, offering a flat-water venue that accommodates the imagined America’s Cup course, alongside the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle, with a community of 53k exhibiting the friendly charm of southern USA.

While chatting with the bartender at nearby Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille, the community has clearly become attached to the team. If American Magic wins, prepare to party on Palafox Street.

As Hutchinson guides me through the shed, the Mule, their 38-foot test boat, remains a reminder of what launched their campaign, and if successful, the reason why. No other team got started with such an asset, and Hutchinson contends the lessons learned during those early days dramatically reduced the testing needed now on the AC75.

It was also pointed out how the shed itself represents the team’s approach led by Roger Penske, perhaps the most recognizable name in American Motorsports, and one of three Principals that have funded and guided the team. Penske’s success is rooted in the ‘Penske Way’ which is integrated in the shed layout. Clean, crisp, and classy with time invested to keep it that way.

Centered in all this order was Defiant, the team’s first AC75, mast down and in the cradle, with technicians beavering about the “off the record” issues that saved me from frostbite. The boat remains like nothing I’ve ever seen, and whatever degree of normalcy I had come to expect from photos and video was lost as I climbed the ladder for a better look.

Once at deck level, the immense depth of the cockpit reminds me of the emphasis toward eliminating windage. Four sets of grinding pedestals, two on a side, will keep eight crew humming the handles with their heads out of wind’s way.

The cockpit appears small, positioned well aft, with an expanse of deck forward suitable for landing one of Bezos’ rockets. It is scow-massive, but not needed for crew work. Sails aren’t going up and down, with buttons and joysticks aft to control the performance variables. However, Hutchinson did note how the forward set of grinders also double as jib trimmers that actually must handle jib sheets… some tradition still remains.

With 11 crew, and 8 on the handles, that leaves first stringers Dean Barker on helm and Paul Goodison on mainsheet trim in the aft of the cockpit, with the futuristic role of flight controller Andrew Campbell at the front of the bus. Utilizing tools more familiar to neighboring naval flight school students than sailors, Campbell’s job is to ensure Defiant has smooth air travel.

“Please put your seat backs and tray tables in their upright and locked positions.”

I followed Hutchinson into his office where our discussion will soon be released in an interview, some of which focused on the direction the America’s Cup has taken. The 2021 competition will hardly resemble what the crafters of the original Deed of Gift had envisioned, yet still remains within the four corners of the document, so it is what it is.

But how the America’s Cup continues to evolve is what motivates the team as it represents New York Yacht Club, the founding trustee that would like to again provide stewardship to ensure its healthy future.

Footnote: While waiting at my hotel for a ride to the airport, I looked up to a greeting from Ray Davies, sailing team member and coach for America’s Cup defender Emirates Team New Zealand. He also was in Pensacola for a look at American Magic’s Defiant, and was likely more willing than I was to endure the winter weather. Not surprisingly, the kiwis are doing whatever is needed to retain their grip on the America’s Cup trophy.

36th America’s Cup
In addition to Challenges from Italy, USA, and Great Britain that were accepted during the initial entry period (January 1 to June 30, 2018), eight additional Notices of Challenge were received by the late entry deadline on November 30, 2018. Of those eight submittals, entries from Malta, USA, and the Netherlands were also accepted. Here’s the list:

• Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL)

• Luna Rossa (ITA) – Challenger of Record
• American Magic (USA)
• Malta Altus Challenge (MLT) – WITHDRAW
• Stars + Stripes Team USA (USA)
• DutchSail (NED) – WITHDRAW

Of the three late entries, only Stars+Stripes USA remains committed, but they still must complete the entry fee payment process before they will be eligible to race. They have allegedly made their initial payment but as a late entry challenger under the Protocol, they also have a liability to pay a US$1million late entry fee due in installments by October 1, 2019. However, it is not yet confirmed if they have paid the fee, nor is there any knowledge of a boat being actively built or sailing team training as of January 8, 2020.

Key America’s Cup dates:
✔ September 28, 2017: 36th America’s Cup Protocol released
✔ November 30, 2017: AC75 Class concepts released to key stakeholders
✔ January 1, 2018: Entries for Challengers open
✔ March 31, 2018: AC75 Class Rule published
✔ June 30, 2018: Entries for Challengers close
✔ August 31, 2018: Location of the America’s Cup Match and The PRADA Cup confirmed
✔ August 31, 2018: Specific race course area confirmed
✔ November 30, 2018: Late entries deadline
✔ March 31, 2019: Boat 1 can be launched (DELAYED)
✔ 2nd half of 2019: 2 x America’s Cup World Series events (CANCELLED)
October 1, 2019: US$1million late entry fee deadline (NOT KNOWN)
February 1, 2020: Boat 2 can be launched
April 23-26, 2020: First America’s Cup World Series event in Cagliari, Sardinia
During 2020: 3 x America’s Cup World Series events
December 10-20, 2020: America’s Cup Christmas Race
January and February 2021: The PRADA Cup Challenger Selection Series
March 2021: The America’s Cup Match

AC75 launch dates:
September 6 – Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL), Boat 1
September 10 – American Magic (USA), Boat 1; actual launch date earlier but not released
October 2 – Luna Rossa (ITA), Boat 1
October 4 – INEOS Team UK (GBR), Boat 1


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