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American Magic capsize and damage: What went wrong?

We hear from American Magic Skipper, Terry Hutchinson about what caused the American Magic capsize and near sinking, how long before they can be racing again and round up the rest of the action from the first weekend of the Prada Cup

Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

It is hard to believe that just over four days ago, the conversation for those following the build up to the America’s Cup was all about INEOS Team UK struggling with an uncompetitive boat, American Magic looking the strongest challenger, and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli having a lightwind package. How the tables have turned now that the first weekend of racing in the Prada Cup has concluded in dramatic style with the American Magic capsize

Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

American Magic update 

The biggest news of the weekend was that of the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic, steered by Kiwi, Dean Barker, which dramatically capsized in the final race of the weekend, took damage and began to sink with what appeared to be alarming speed. 

The boat was eventually saved with the help of the three other America’s Cup teams, along with America’s Cup Event Ltd, the race management team, Coastguard New Zealand, the Auckland Harbourmaster, and local fire and police personnel.

It is hard to say that Sunday’s events could be seen to have many winners, but if there was one, it was the sport of sailing showing the world what good sportsmanship looks like in the face of extreme adversity.

The American boat, Patriot, was finally pulled out of the water at around midnight local time after a herculean effort to first secure the hull and then tow her back the 10 or so miles to the team’s base. 

Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

Once the boat had been hauled from the water, the extent of the damage was quickly clear with a huge hole sitting between the bow and foil arm on her port side.   

In a press conference on Monday 18th January, with the American Magic Skipper, Terry Hutchinson explained just what the team face in order to get the boat back onto the water: “We have a high level of resolve and I think what we will see over the next 8-10 days is the boat will be rebuilt. She might not come out of the shed as pretty, but she is going to come out of the shed and we are going racing.” 

This is good news indeed as there were times on Sunday that is looked as though the boat might never sail again. However, the timeline for the repair will have serious ramifications. 

Hutchinson quotes 8-10 days for the repair, but Round Robin sailing in the Prada Cup is set to continue in just four days time on the 22nd January. Clearly, then, it seems the team will not be able to continue. 

American Magic’s Terry Hutchinson faces the press

All is not lost, however. With only three teams competing in the event, the Round Robins only select the winning team to go straight to the final of the Prada Cup, with the second and third placed boats going into a first-to-four-wins Semi-Final, which is scheduled to begin on the 29th January – or in 11 days time. 

The timeline looks tight for certain and there is a lot to get done. “It will be a big effort to get the boat sailing for the Semis,” Hutchinson explained. “We’ve had great support from the local Auckland community and the other teams. 

“The easiest part is the rebuild [of the broken hull]. The hardest part will be getting the electronics and FCS [foil cant system] up to speed. The yachts are finicky. Yesterday was day 45 for Patriot and she has been very reliable, but if you have worries it will be dealing with the gremlins inside the boat.”

There is sure to be more than we currently know to repair but at the moment the list looks daunting enough as it is. 

American Magic have already done a full ultrasound of the boat to see what levels of structural integrity they have managed to maintain. They will need to cut out any area of the boat that has seen delamination, repair the carbon skin, and repair the internal structure. 

Alongside this, the entire electronics system will need to be stripped out and replaced – itself no mean feat, these boats rely entirely on vast amounts of proprietary electronics –, the FCS is no longer usable, so the team will need to strip that out of their old AC75, Defiant, and fit it to Patriot. And that is just what we know from an initial assessment by the team. 

How did American Magic capsize?

There has been a vast amount of speculation as to what happened to American Magic to cause the capsize and the damage that nearly saw her sink to the sea floor. Hutchinson, in his press conference, walked through exactly what they think went wrong.

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“The foil arm dug in and the boat decelerated,” he explained. “We were doing a tack and bear away [around the windward gate mark] and 40 seconds before we tacked it was blowing 12.5 knots. When we tacked it was blowing 23.5 knots.”

“When you look at the wind graph, the time from 18 knots to 23 knots is about three seconds. 

“You have to race these boats hard, it is very unforgiving and you have to go hard, there is as much or more risk if you take your foot off the gas.”

Initially looking at the replay of the incident, it looks as though the leeward runner is not released, which seems to pin the mainsail in, and looks for all the world the cause of the capsize. But Hutchinson feels this is not the case. 

“We were looking at the [runner] about 15 minutes ago and you can see that it is a bit fetched up in the mid-stripe. But there’s a couple of things that happen when you go step-by-step through the manoeuvre. 

“When we come out of the tack, the traveller is all the way down the bottom of the track [to depower the boat in the high winds] with hindsight that is the first indication that something is going to go wrong. 

“Because the traveller is all the way down, the [runner] is eased, but the next thing that happens is that the mainsheet gets eased and that loads into the leeward runner. 

“Everything is set at a setting on the boat that has a certain amount of length to it. So when everything is eased, the boat doesn’t usually sail like that. I still need to check the data to see if the runner was at max ease, but I don’t think that is the thing that caused the problem,” he explained of the circumstances leading to the capsize.  

How did the damage occur to American Magic?  

On exactly how the boat took its damage, the answer seems to be much clearer. “When you look at the boatspeed through the trajectory of the turn, it’s going 47 knots or something,” says Hutchinson.

“When you look at it in slow-mo the boat gets a long way out of the water and we have a reasonable amount of bow up and then the boat slammed down… There’s transverse structure inside the boat and longitudinal structure, it is fine if it slams flat on its keel but when you land on the side on a flat panel, the structure inside just guillotines the panel.”

Photo: Carlo Borlenghi

There will, no doubt, be a lot more to come from the American team as they continue to attempt to repair their boat in time for the Prada Cup Semi-Final.

However, with the boat scheduled to be relaunched just days before the racing, and a best-to-four series against a challenger who will spend the coming weeks improving, chances of getting further than the Semi-Final now seem slim. But sometimes, a slim chance is all you need…  

INEOS Team UK now favourites 

With American Magic now out of the Prada Cup Round Robin series, INEOS Team UK  must surely be favourite to win and go straight through to the Prada Cup Final. 

The British team had a stunning first day of racing, beating both American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli. They then won a light wind race against American Magic on Sunday (conditions thought to be their achilles heel), before beating Luna Rossa once more in their windy and shifty race on Sunday. 

As such, the team now top the scoreboard with four points from four races. The schedule has the Brits racing American Magic a further two times (both ‘wins’ will go to the Brits without the American team sailing). This will give them a total of six points. They are also due to race Luna Rossa another two times. 

Luna Rossa currently sit on two wins from four races. They too are scheduled to race American Magic twice, so those ‘wins’ will put them on four points.

This means that in the remaining two races, if INEOS win a single race, they go straight through to the final. But, the rules state that should two teams be tied at the end of the series, the team that last beat the other will go to the final. 

Ultimately should Luna Rossa win the first race against INEOS then it will all come down to a final match race to decide the winner. 

Competitive across the board

A fascinating part of this America’s Cup cycle is the variation we have seen in sails, foils and hull shapes. But now we are into the thick of the racing it seems all three challengers are relatively evenly matched. At times one is slightly quicker or slower in a certain wind strength or direction, but it has broadly come down to the sailing. 

Though the Brits look very good with a 4-0 record, this has largely come from smart sailing by the whole team. In particular, the Brits benefit from having given Giles Scott a dedicated tactician role where this role is split between the two helmsmen on Luna Rossa, and is taken by Terry Hutchinson who is also working a grinding pedestal on American Magic. 

With such tight margins and someone who knows how to come from behind in Jimmy Spithill, Luna Rossa will be well up for the fight for the remainder of the round robins. The Brits might well be leading the series, and they might well be favourites for now but this is still very much all to play for. 


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