American Magic sailor Terry Hutchinson breaks down how the capsizing of the team's AC75 sailing yacht Patriot happened at the 36th America’s Cup...
Much has been said about Patriot’s capsize on day three of the Prada Cup round robin. It was without question a very surreal experience. Even as I sit and write on a cold, April afternoon in Annapolis, Maryland, the memory is still very vivid and real.
The day started full of potential. Patriot spent the morning to leeward of the Course A starting area. The first attempt at running the Luna Rossa-INEOS Team UK match had been postponed due to a wind shift. Once the sky cleared, as predicted by our team weatherman Chris Bedford, the racing over Course A was deemed good prior to the arrival of a storm cell. Luna Rossa and INEOS eventually got away for a quick three-lap race while we warmed up in and around the course area.
What started as a day of questionable weather turned into a good sailing day. We felt that the only challenge that we would face, aside from Luna Rossa, was making sure that our race would get away before the weather went to custard!
The race started with us on the back foot. A jammed jib zip required a late jib change, which made us late on our pre-start timing. The AC75 on the easiest of days is difficult to handle, and while the sea had calmed down, we were still ripping around in 16 to 19 knots of true wind speed.
The jib issue, and our resulting late entry to the box, gave Luna Rossa a bit of an advantage off the line. The Italians tacked and crossed in front of Patriot and gave us what we thought was the favored left side of the racecourse. This was the long port tack, and straight away you could see and feel that Patriot was going well. By the first top mark we had edged out to a five boat-length lead that for the next four legs remained unthreatened. Patriot was demonstrating the speed and performance we knew was within her capabilities.
The storm-related weather features that were discussed earlier in our briefing started to appear later in the race. The breeze was becoming more volatile as the approaching storm began to impact the course. First came the rain and then the decreasing pressure at the bottom of the track. The cloud sucked the breeze off the course, and we suddenly had just nine knots at the bottom and 17 at the top of the track. Each decision became critical, as we were trying to stay in the pressure.
As I replay the last beat (on the second-to-last leg) in my head, nothing unusual about our team’s conduct stands out. The communications were normal. Patriot was ripping. We had built a comfortable 2,000-foot lead, and the key to winning was simply to manage the rest of the race.
The only odd factor of our situation in that moment was the unstable wind speed. As we sailed away from the impending thunderstorm, the wind field was better mixed at the top of the track near the windward gate. This is not to say that the sky was not ominous. It was, but no signs of a dramatic increase were there to see.
The final 20-seconds into the top went from reasonably calm, or as calm as you can be going upwind at 37 knots, to frenzy. A 15-degree left shift with a four-knot increase in wind speed saw the boat speed jump to 45 knots. A gray cloud previously spotted moving towards the racecourse suddenly decided to impact our race.
The team had a good pre-maneuver discussion during what would be the final bear away of the race. A right turn meant sailing less distance, but a large pressure hole was spotted near that gate mark. We were worried about running out of breeze. Just the day before, during the Prada Cup, the world had seen what happens to AC75s that run out of wind. No lead is safe if the leader falls off her foils. The lessons of the previous day, where we went 0-2 in marginal conditions, were fresh in our minds.
The decision was made to execute a left turn, which meant doing a difficult tack and bear-away maneuver to stay in the pressure. The turn and the maneuver were all normal, but the one feature that was not was the increase from 17 to 24 knots of true wind speed through the apex of the turn.
More speed usually means the AC75 is easier to handle. In this maneuver, however, we were ripping through a bear away turn. The increase in pressure made Patriot a handful, and over she went.
The moment is still surreal. I can still see the water bubbling around me as I struggle to get out of my harness. One tether is keeping me pinned under the surface, and with every attempt to get air, all I’m getting is water. The mainsail is on top of me, as well as my teammates Cooper Dressler, Cicho Cichetti and Tim Hornsby. What seems like an eternity ends up passing in seconds as Cooper and Cicho cut me out and I’m able to get that first big gasp of air.
The next six hours saw a herculean effort to save Patriot. American Magic, Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, INEOS Team UK and, of course, the local maritime fire and rescue services all played a significant part in keeping her afloat. It was a truly impressive moment, and a display of sportsmanship that transcended sport.
Nine days later, Patriot sailed again. American Magic took a boat that for all intents and purposes was an airplane, sank it in salt water, and then flew it again. Patriot herself was technically compromised for the semi-finals, but the heart of the people on our team shined.
As I reflect on the competition, I know how we measure ourselves as America’s Cup teams. The focus is on winning and the scorecard. And yet, perhaps in the 12 days that followed our crash, what shines through as the main American Magic story is that a very young team earned the respect of our competitors.
The mountain of success was too big of a climb this time round. Nevertheless, the fact that we got up and got back in the game as a team is something that we can all be proud of. We had the support of the people of New Zealand and sailing fans around the world. The thousands of messages we received is a testament to this. That full-team response, and how it impacted all of those who watched the 36th America’s Cup, were wins of a different kind.
This feature is taken from the June 2021 issue of BOAT International US. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue.shop now