Seated in identical armchairs lined across a low stage, four men face an audience of a few hundred attendees of US Sailing’s Leadership Forum in February 2018. These gentlemen will soon explain how their America’s Cup team, Bella Mente Quantum Racing, will steer the Cup to its former, classier roots, bringing along with it a new culture of American sailing.
Stage left is Malcolm Page, of Australia, a two-time Olympic 470 gold medalist now leading a scrappy US Sailing team toward Tokyo 2020. To his right is the senior and semiretired businessman John J. Fauth, who goes by Hap. Fauth has campaigned a line of grand-prix maxis named Bella Mente over the years — with a world championship win to his credit. To his right is Phil Lotz, New York YC commodore, a champion sailor himself and a progressive leader of the 173-year-old club. Finally, stage right is a smiling Terry Hutchinson, arguably one of the best American sailors of the past decade. Now resting on Hutchinson’s shoulders as skipper of New York YC’s challenge are the hopes and dreams of all America’s Cup traditionalists starving for some semblance of the distant past.
Today, Hutchinson is building a squad to flip New Zealand’s fortunes and restore the Auld Mug to where it once resided for 132 years before the Aussies took it away with their winged keel in 1987.
Hutchinson’s name might occupy the figurative corner office, but this American America’s Cup effort is much bigger than him or the 11 sailors who will eventually race the curious new AC75 (see page 26 for a technical brief) in Auckland in 2021. Indeed, the challenge is greater than winning the most expensive sailboat race known to man. The hard part will be advancing American sailing from the Optimist sailor to the Olympian. Yes, Bella Mente is about the Cup, says Hutchinson, but the syndicate’s legacy is what matters. With nationality rules in place, seven of the 11 crew will be born-and-bred Americans, bringing the 36th America’s Cup to its roots.
The campaign is about trickle-down too, but they’re not only talking about foil, wing and flight-control technology. They’re talking about advancing youth and skills, and opportunity for the generation that follows, victorious or not. The goal is to win it and then defend it, Hutchinson tells the audience. “In seven years, if I’m on the boat, I’ve screwed up.”
Let’s hope he’s not.
While he may be footing a sizable portion of the campaign, Fauth won’t be on the boat either. He’s too old, and his knees aren’t what they used to be when he was ripping seams on a hard sail loft floor on Long Island as a young adult. He wouldn’t pass the physical, and besides, he has a new Maxi 72 on build, which the sailing team will use to stay fresh while they await the first of two AC boats to come along. Two other gentlemen bankrolling the New York YC’s American dream team are automotive tycoon Roger Penske and Michigan native Doug DeVos, the millionaire philanthropist, Quantum Sails owner and skilled Corinthian helmsman of eponymous TP52s and sportboats.
The three of them have underwritten nearly half of the projected $130 million campaign, says Fauth, who says his role as CEO is that of “resource allocation” and to ensure that team politics never cloud good judgment. Whereas other challengers might start from scratch with personnel, Belle Mente enters the Cup game with a deep bench, but it will eventually rely on talent culled from the US Sailing team, as well as aspiring Cuppers from Long Island’s Oakcliff Sailing.
With the New York YC, the team is well-positioned; they’ve been eager to retake the world stage. “We had to do something,” says Commodore Lotz. “The event is so intertwined with the club’s history.”
Its terms to Hutchinson were clear: The challenge had to be competitive; it had to respect the event and the club’s traditions with the Cup; and it had to have a lasting, positive impact on American sailing. The New York YC’s previous two attempts ended with a cracking and sinking, respectively, Hutchinson reminds the audience. “We can achieve higher than that.”
Recognizing that only so much experience can be gained from simulators, the team’s schedule is both tight and ambitious. Working toward the Challenger Selection Series in January 2021, its first AC75 must be sailing in earnest by May 2019. Then the logistical road show starts with two European regattas later in the year, followed by an event in Dubai in early 2020, before a regatta or two on the U.S. East Coast (Hutchison hints southeast Florida and Newport, Rhode Island). It all then goes to the Southern Hemisphere for an Auckland regatta in December 2020.
Somewhere in that schedule, a second AC75 will have to be built and perfected, and there is no two-boat testing allowed.
“I lie awake at night thinking about our constraint in terms of number of sailing days on the boat with the team in full race mode,” Fauth confesses. “It’s a limiter for everybody to have the same starting point, excluding the Kiwis. Losing a single day on the water is really, really, really a loss for the team.”
The team’s first AC75 will be built in Rhode Island, as will be other pieces required to honor domestic-built requirements. The 20 percent nationality rule requires that the sailors be physically in the States for 380 days over two years, a rule, hints Fauth, intended to prevent others from poaching Kiwi sailors.
We can expect, therefore, to have a greater awareness as the team goes about its business. Fauth assures the forum audience of the team’s intentions of an honest and transparent campaign. “We intend to build an America’s Cup culture, and this is the starting point, developing it, being ethical and honest, and creating role models for younger sailors. If we don’t prevail, the residual will be a legacy that has enough experience for another challenge.”
How do they intend to pull at the American sailing heartstrings left abandoned by two-time defender Larry Ellison? Well, they’ve started with US Sailing and Oakcliff partnerships, but Fauth is intent on taking his team straight to the people. “It starts with you all getting excited and getting involved with us,” he promises. “We are bringing it to local clubs, talking directly to you through social media, and the ability to follow along through construction and training.”
This new culture, the commodore concludes, is one that American’s can finally get excited about. The audience claps and cheers with approval, anticipating a new Cup that sets a better example of sportsmanship and ethics, of fair sailing and traditions.