American Magic Inbound to Barcelona

What wads American Magic been up to before shipping off to Barcelona? We asked skipper Terry Hutchinson at our Speaker Series at the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in Annapolis.
American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson shares his team insights with Sailing World’s Dave Reed at the Sailing World Speaker Series at Annapolis YC in early May. Walter Cooper

At the Helly Hansen Sailing World Regatta Series in Annapolis in early May, American Magic’s skipper Terry Hutchinson held court at the Annapolis YC for the Sailing World Speaker Series to share an update on the team, their next AC75 and what it’ll take to get and win the big race in Barcelona.

Give us the lowdown of winding down operations in Pensacola ahead of the move to Barcelona.

In February we transitioned out of Patriot and into the AC40, which has been a reasonably good platform. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough. We purchased two of them so that we can do in-house racing, but also use the platform for our foil development. We get four foils to develop, so the guys are designing what they think are the best AC75 foils and then they scale them down for the 40. We lose a little bit in the scalability, but as much as anything, we’re working on the process of developing the boat, we’re working on the communications between the entire team and we’re working on the idiosyncrasies of a new sailing team that’s very experienced, but new together. We had to navigate through that and a massive move to Spain. Our first sailing day is June 22, with two boats on the water in Barcelona, so there’s a lot to do before then. The team is 126 people, and we’re about 350 with our families, so it’s not something that just happens—it’s a pretty big machine. But on the positive side, we’re getting there early enough to set ourselves into life in Barcelona and be as streamlined as naturally as possible. 

American Magic’s AC40 America lays down some final foiling miles with a new foil design (port) in Pensacola before packing up its operational move to Barcelona. Paul Todd/AMERICA’S CUP

You’ve said the design “sign-off” for your AC75 was May. Where are you at with the build?

By this time next year [late April], Boat 3 is going to be close. Its nickname is “Raven.” We’re building the boat inside of our own facility at the Safe Harbor New England Boatworks facility and when we get to max capacity there, there’ll be more than 50 builders and designers operating in that space and, hopefully, working on the boat that’s going to win the next America’s Cup. It’s unbelievably cool to see the evolution. Our team transformed a bit under the leadership of Scott Ferguson, who’s the design coordinator. We’ve got Britt Ward, who’s one of our principal hull designers, which is awesome. Britt’s a certifiable super genius. I think what makes our design team unique is there’s a combination of guys that have won the regatta, and then there’s guys that have not won the regatta—like Britt, who has been very close and is very successful in his own right but hasn’t gotten over the hump like a few of us—so we do see a unique motivation there. We brought in some of the guys that were within INEOS but that Scott had already worked with in the Oracle program, as well as some of the guys that were with Prada, and we’re sprinkling in from Pete Melvin’s office out on the West Coast. They’ve brought a unique skill set with their simulator and some of the scientific side there that they’ve helped develop. And so, it’s a different look—the process the guys have gotten through to execute on the hull is very thoughtful and thorough in how they approach the design of the boat. 

What are the primary design considerations, given what you know of the weather in Barcelona during the Cup’s long duration?

The average wind speed over the course of September and October has the ability to be anywhere from six to 11 knots. But the unique statistic inside that is that almost 50 percent of the days we don’t race. The bottom side of the wind range is 6.5 knots. The boat has to foil at 6.5 knots, measured at 5 meters. And then the top side of it is 21 knots at 5 meters. Everything we do to make the boat good in 8, 9, 10 or 11 knots, we take away from the light-air performance of the boat. And so, while 8 knots may sound like light air, at 8 knots the boat’s going 33 knots upwind. If October [in Barcelona] is 6 to 11, September is like 8 to 12. In actuality, your chances of 8 to 12 are much higher, because you’re missing a lot of days of racing in October. So that tells you it’s either really light, or it’s windy, because the average is still light. So, we have to contemplate how we design for that side of it.

The other side of the rules that are unique now is we only have one set of foils, and a spare, and the rule says the foil has to be from the same family. It has to look a certain part…it has to have 80 percent of the initial foil shape. If you muck around at all, it has to look the part and so when we make that first foil decision, that’s our only foil decision and we’re shooting a pretty big bullet. The hull is one thing, but as we learned in AC36, the hull is a very small component to the actual success. But what we do know is that we’re never going to make a slow foil fast. 

In AC36, Team New Zealand had the smallest foils in the fleet and they had the highest percentage of VMG through all the maneuvering. It’s a perpetuating circle where, if for example, you’re going into a maneuver, if you have to, your bottom speed can only be 27 knots in the maneuver, or you fall off the foil. Then when you go into the maneuver you speed build to 35 knots, you tack, you land at 30 and then you keep going. But what that shows in a performance world is the boat being that much more maneuverable. And then downwind, it’s the same thing—in 12 knots of breeze the boat is sailing at 150 true downwind and just like a symmetric boat you jibe through 60 degrees or so. In that way, the sailing is very similar. Upwind, you’re sailing at 45 true—anywhere from 40 to 45—and your tacking angle is 90 degrees.

How have you integrated cyclors into the platform now that they’re allowed?

The difference in the rule from AC36 to AC37 is we’ve gone from 11 sailors down to eight. And we’ve maintained the same amount of hydraulic power to actuate the sails, and all the systems inside the boat. One of the things that’s different between AC36 and AC37, outside of the reduction of sailors, is the system has a 2-second delay, whereas in AC36, you could have no logic running the boat. You turn the boat on, programmers program the boat, you go out and you go sailing and you have presets, but you can’t, in essence, develop an autopilot. So, it’s not completely an autopilot, and the waves really change the dynamic of how the boat sails. In flat water, a 2-second delay is actually not very much, but when you put the boat into a sea state, a 2-second delay is a big impact to the performance of the boat. 

We’ve been developing cyclors, and what you’re basically looking for is the athlete to produce 5 watts per kilo over 25 minutes. If you think about a Tour de France cyclist, they’re 60 kilos and they’re consistently producing about 315 watts over a stage in a Tour race. We’re looking for these athletes to produce just over 500 watts with their legs for 25 minutes, which is a big ask. We have one professional cyclist, and then we have rowers and swimmers who are proving to be the best athletes. They’re very much like sailors. They’re very twisted. One guy showed up and said, “I wasn’t sure if this was my friends punking me or if this was actually real?” And I said, “And you still showed up? I mean, you actually thought it was a good idea? He was like, “Yeah, I just didn’t know if I was going to be leaving without a kidney or what was going to happen.”

So, not only do we have that quality of an athlete, they’re also very smart. A couple of the guys are engineers, a couple of them work for Apple and have just come out of school. And so, on top of being incredible specimens, they’re integrating into developing the systems in the boat. One of our athletes has broken a world record on the stationary bike—Colton Hall from Massachusetts—for fun last year, he did a ride around New England where he rode 501 miles in just over 25 hours without stopping, for fun, just because, but he did a 3-hour ride on the stationary bike where he averaged 402 watts for 3 hours. And he broke a world record at the 2-hour mark at 428. When he gets on the bike, he doesn’t produce lactic acid, up to about 300 watts. If we just fed him and hydrated him, he’d just keep rolling.

What are you learning from all the shared recon available to you?

When we look over the fences at some of the test boats, Luna Rossa is doing a really nice job. That boat is a direct result of their debrief. If you look at the hull form and you look at team New Zealand’s hull form from AC36, that boat is a knock on, but with some very good systems and a sail program that’s very good. Team New Zealand is on the pathway; they’ve launched their AC75 and they have a couple of features that we picked up in the recon; the mainsheet and the jib and everything are all linked together, so when one moves, everything moves. We can see them working on the proportions there. INEOS—their little test boat is not going to win a beauty contest, but we see a lot of clever thinking in the boat. They have a Mercedes-style foil, which science says is the right thing to do. It has anhedral and then it goes flat to a straight wing, and what that gives is the benefit of less drag but also the idea that a straight foil across is you’re not carrying as much in the water and you still get the benefits of the T foil. 

With its AC75 Patriot packed for the move, American Magic shifted to the AC40 to experiment with another foil design package (port foil) and refine maneuvers before relocating to Barcelona. Paul Todd/AMERICA’S CUP

So, we see that, and we can see the bustle they’ve put on their boat. One of the features of these boats is you really want to seal the boat to the water. All the boats will have some type of bustle, but that bustle is bad for hitting waves and changes the apparent wind angles around. These are all the things that when we go out into the Gulf of Mexico or we sail in Pensacola Bay, we learn the differences and all the tradeoffs that we have to have in our minds. One thing we know for certain is if we come up against a perfect flat-water boat in flat water, they’re going to be faster because the averages are telling us all to design to be more forgiving…so we might actually see a wider scale of performance in the boats. If you land in your sweet spot of conditions, then you’re going to be pretty slippery. 

So many people ask me: “Who’s your biggest competition?” Well, our biggest competition is us. We have everything we need to win the regatta, but I’m a bit tainted and jaded because we had everything we needed to win the regatta in AC36 and we floundered. The people that we are racing against are very good and they have everything they need too, but we have a couple of X factors. We have very good sailors and a very good team camaraderie. We maintained over 50 percent of our team from AC36. We all know the improvement in performance that comes out of consistency with a team. And so, through that lens, I look at it and think we’re the team to beat, but if you asked Team New Zealand or INEOS you’re probably going to get the same answer. We’re fortunate to have Andrew Campbell and Tom Slingsby and Paul Goodison and Riley Gibbs, Lucas Calabrese and Michael Menninger. These guys are all great sailors and there’s enough experience there—from Olympic gold medalists, to somebody who, on paper, doesn’t look to be the most qualified, but is an awesome team member and does really good work at integrating into the team. So, that side of it is probably the most exciting because I think we, as a team, have the most to gain from it. We have three guys that actually raced Lasers against each other, two of them have swapped gold medals. Goodison, to his credit, has three Moth world championships and is doing a phenomenal job of leading the team day in and day out.

Can you give us a hint of what the final race boat will look like?

What is she going to look like? She’s going to be long. She’s going to look a lot different than Patriot. In January of 2021, when we had the forecast that we had, we had a full team meeting saying, we’re not going to win any races on these two days, because we know the boat’s vulnerable. And to win the regatta, you inherently have to put yourself into a corner to be fast. We learned through that, and so I would say Boat 3 is going to look a lot different than Patriot did.

What do you think will be the breakthrough development in this Cup cycle? What is out there that you’ve seen that you think would make a big difference?

 That’s a really hard question to answer because if we reflect back to AC36, Team New Zealand made the biggest jump over the course of basically 10 weeks in their sail program. And they had a logical pathway of development to that. They started with an articulating boom, they built a little boomless mule and then they launched Boat 2, boomless. But the system in the boat really wasn’t all that good. And they had small foils. They were handicapped by that, and yet, they figured it all out. So, what’s going to win the regatta is a boat that’s fast enough that when you’re in your weak spot, you’re able to manage that, and to me, the weak spot isn’t downrange. The weak spots are going to be up range, because everybody’s got the same weather forecast. We all look at the same numbers statistically, so we’re gonna have to have a boat that’s very reliable, and is fast enough in 12 knots, or 13 or 14 knots when we come up against somebody who’s in their sweet spot that we can take races off of them.

Simulators and artificial intelligence were a big part of AC36; is it even more so today? Would it be accurate to say you’ve essentially already sailed the races?

Have we sailed all the races already? No. But I would say the simulation side of it—one of the things that Pete [Melvin] and his office brought to us was they have very good experience with that and running the program that’s actually developed by Dan Bernasconi, who is the design coordinator for Team New Zealand. In parallel, we’ve been developing our own simulation, and all those design tools. But when you talk about artificial intelligence, or machine-based learning, you have to remember it’s learning from the past, it’s not learning from the future. So, it’s trying to predict the future and trying to put you into a spot. But it’s learned from things that have already happened. When you throw it into sailing, there are a lot of variables that can skew data, based on the learnings from the past.

Our simulator is at a spot that Anderson [Reggio] and the team that’s evolved that we’ve been incredibly fortunate over the last three months that we received a grant from the Schoonmaker Foundation, specific to the simulation. That’s allowed us to accelerate the amount of hires, and so the data that comes off the boat gets put into the code, and into the physics model that goes into the simulation. And then the sailors get to a place where they can sit down in the simulator and it feels exactly like the boat. The cockpit feels just like the boat and what you look at with the VR feels like the boat. We chose not to do a motion platform because it’s expensive, and it’s lethargic. And you have to move all this stuff around the world. Ergonomically, it feels the same. All the buttons are in the same spot. The goggles—everywhere you look—you see the Westin Hotel in Barcelona, I mean, you see the whole thing, but each day we go sailing, the next day you go in the simulator, the simulator is better because of that sailing session.

We have a great artificial intelligence partner with Altair out of Detroit, Michigan, and they’re helping us develop this stuff. But again, it’s not something that just kind of pops out of thin air and you go well, here you go.

Between Slingsby and Goodison you’ve got two of the best at the helms, and Andrew Campbell has so much experience flying the AC75, but what do you do for backups should someone be unable to sail for any reason?

We have to have backups in case somebody gets smacked by a bus. We need to have flight controller backup, and we need to have trimmer backup. The nice thing about having Lucas and Riley [Gibbs] steering a lot is they’re both really good trimmers, so they develop a feel for the helm, and what the boat needs by sailing the boat. When you swap over and you start trimming, you should have a better feel for the boat. We were horrifically exposed in AC36, but we’ve changed our approach, partly because we’ve integrated the team with younger Americans. Harry Melges [IV], who’s over sailing the Quantum Racing [52] right now is coming in as one of our helmsmen, so he’ll be joining the team in July, which will be awesome. I mean, everybody knows how talented he is, and he’s younger than my oldest son. Michael Menninger has done an incredible job evolving into his role trimming on the boat, and of all the guys, he had the least amount of foiling experience, but he’s turning into an incredibly gifted trimmer on the boat. What makes all of these guys good is their abilities to think, and do things correctly at pace.

Match racing in AC75s in Barcelona; will there be much of it?

It’s going to be different. The sea state is going to be the big driver to the whole thing, especially if it’s light. The flat water we saw in Auckland, and in the racing that took place there…I mean, what we saw in the final in the match was Luna Rossa had come through and was really well prepared. Every day they came off the water even with Team New Zealand, it was a win for Team New Zealand because it was just getting them more time at racing. And their boat was getting faster and faster and faster. So, Luna Rossa did as good a job as they possibly could have done to get the match as far into it as they did. But again, they came up against a faster boat. And once the faster boat gets a sniff of bow out…It’s unlike the traditional IACC matches where everything was happening at 10.1 or 10.2 and the separation that we got between the boats. It was very tactical and very strategic. It was also about having a fast boat, but by the time we got to the match in AC32, the differences were minuscule. But still, the average delta, I think, was 19 seconds over seven races. And in the last race it was a minute.

Team New Zealand has always been hard to beat. And as Defender, this is their show. How beatable are they?

Well, they’re very good. They’ve got a great design team. They’ve got great sailors, they’ve got the whole thing right there in front of them. But they’ve made a couple interesting decisions. They started out right after the Cup with the hydrogen support vessel project, they designed that, and their design team was working on that, then they developed the AC40 and the system that goes inside the AC40. Even though they pawned that off to McConaghy to build, it’s still requiring oversight. And then Glenn [Ashby] broke the land speed record. All of that, to me, kind of takes your eye off of the America’s Cup ball. But, then they sold the venue to Barcelona. That’s a side of it that can’t be underestimated. For me, that’s probably the biggest equalizer. What makes the event winnable is that they’ve taken it out of their home town and they’ve put it in the middle of Europe, which is great for us because it’s easier to get to.