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Mastering the Mule: How American Magic is preparing for the 36th America's Cup

Mastering the Mule: How American Magic is preparing for the 36th America's Cup

Terry Hutchinson, skipper and executive director of New York Yacht Club American Magic, on his team’s marathon America’s Cup challenge.

For those readers not familiar with New York Yacht Club American Magic, we are a US entry in the 36th America’s Cup (in Auckland, New Zealand, in March 2021). The Cup is, of course, the oldest event in international sports and the pinnacle of competitive sailing.

Our first hurdle will be the Prada Cup, the Challenger Selection Series. If we win, we would qualify for the right to race against the current America’s Cup defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, in the latest edition of a competition first held in 1851. The 2021 event will revert to monohulls, albeit unconventional ones. The boat itself will be a foiling 75ft monohull capable of speeds of well over 50 knots.

As a new team, we face a lot of standard startup woes. Developing a competitive advantage is difficult. In the early days of American Magic, we soon recognised that our number one limitation was time. We needed to be aggressive with early decision-making and to test ourselves under pressure. Identifying strengths and weaknesses as early as possible was paramount to team development. We needed to test our ability to meet deadlines in engineering and production while also allowing a cohesive sailing team to develop.

The search for ways to accomplish these specific goals in the early stages of our campaign was how the American Magic 38 (aka the Mule) concept was hatched. The Mule was originally a McConaghy 38 but it was transformed by our design team into the world’s fastest monohull. The boat’s nickname is shared with the test cars of Team Penske, led by one of American Magic’s three team principals, motorsports legend Roger Penske. A mere 11.5 metres long, the Mule adheres to the size limitations outlined in the America’s Cup Protocol for test boats. The full-size AC75 class boats, in which we will compete for the Cup, will be nearly twice as long.

What we set out to do at American Magic was to invent the future of sailing. To do this, we needed the vision to understand precisely what we were trying to achieve. We did not make any design decisions on the Mule until we had reviewed the class rule, which became available in March 2018. From there, our 40-strong design team, led by Marcelino Botin and Adolfo Carrau, went through the rule systematically.

As the Mule concept began to take shape, our designers and sailors prioritised areas of development. How complex should the systems be? What were our expectations? Did we want the boat to be simple for the sailors to operate, or sophisticated enough to test advanced concepts? Every day we sail the boat, sailors and designers come off the water with more questions than answers. There are so many ideas to explore that our main focus must be learning what will be applicable to the full-size AC 75, the first of which we are launching this summer. While we are not here to develop the fastest 38 footer in the world, the Mule has sailed through 40 knots of boat speed – so we have achieved that milestone regardless.

So where does American Magic go from here? It is not as simple as saying that if it works on the Mule it will work on the AC 75. The special challenge of this edition of the America’s Cup is to develop a type of boat that has never been seen before: a large-scale fully foiling monohull. To accomplish this, there is simply no substitute for on-the-water testing, especially when combined with the latest in simulation technology. Simulation is not new to our sport but it remains a great validation tool to confirm that what we are seeing on the water is actually in alignment with the science. Needless to say, there is a lot to learn.

We are still in the early stages of a competition that will culminate in March 2021 and the Mule will continue to be a valuable design tool for New York Yacht Club American Magic. While it is good to have reached a couple of major milestones already, this race is a marathon that involves sprinting every day.

This article was originally published in the Boat International US April edition

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