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American Magic Hastens Return to the Racecourse

Working round the clock, technicians, builders and sailors repair the hull damage of the America’s Cup challenger’s AC75.

January 21, 2021
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American Magic AC75 Patriot in the boatshed in New Zealand getting repaired.
American Magic’s AC75 Patriot undergoes major repairs to hull and system inside the team’s base in Auckland Sailing Energy

As the Prada Cup’s final round-robin races are set to get underway on Saturday in Auckland, New Zealand, American Magic’s shore team is racing to complete repairs to the team’s AC75, Patriot, which remains in triage as structural hull repairs continue and complex mechatronic systems are painstakingly reinstalled. At the moment, says grinder Cooper Dressler, the sailing team’s fate is in the hands of the builders. There’s not much he can do. “It’s a bit of a waiting game,” he says. “We’re just trying to stay sharp and fit. These guys are very specialized, so all I can do is go around and empty the trash bins and help out wherever I can.”

Inside the shed, Dressler says, the rebuild is happening before his eyes. “We had a big first night of removing systems. Everything electronic had to come out.”

The FCS [foil control system] had to be extracted, as did all the mechanical systems like the winches and drive trains. Dressler says the boat was “stripped to almost nothing,” and afterward, each department assessed what was salvageable. Beyond the hole in the port side of bow area there was structural damage as well, he says, and “quite a massive part of the hull is missing at the moment.”

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As American Magic skipper and CEO Terry Hutchinson eluded to in his first press conference following the capsize, the team has had to harvest structural pieces from their first boat, Defiant, and use them in Patriot. According to Dressler, a new hull section is being built offsite, which required building a male mold. “Today, they started laying down the inner skin of that hull section onto the plug and they’ll half cook the inner skin,” Dressler explains. “Then they’ll fit the core, lay down the outer skin and then cook the whole part.”

boatbuilders working on a boat hull repair
From left, American Magic performance photographer (and former boatbuilder) Dylan Clarke, sailor Nick Dana, boatbuilder Danny Cawsey, and boatbuilder Ben English working on the areas surrounding the hole in PATRIOT’s hull. Sailing Energy

They’re expected to have the panel by this weekend, whereby it will be scarfed onto the hull, faired, repainted. “As you can imagine, a lot of the electronics were a write off,” Dressler says. Technicians have been working non-stop to build all new wiring looms, which is not an easy task. “Basically, we’ve had to rebuild the entire PLC, all the DC-to-DC boxes and everything that makes the electronics work.”

Wiring looms are normally built offsite, Dressler says, because of the need for precise lengths, but there’s no luxury of time. “They’re normally [made] down to the centimeter—only as long as they need to be. It normally takes months, but this time they’re putting it all together as best they can.”

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The boat’s hydraulic systems, on the other hand, are starting to go back into the boat where possible. “Because it’s a closed system, it is for the most part being reused,” Dressler says. “We have plenty of spare valves that probably need replacing anyway. The pumps are good and the FCS is in really good shape. The hydraulic circuit itself is robust and can be submerged, but the FCS, the processing unit and all the electronics available were immediately doused and submerged when we crashed. Everything there got fried. The cant rams, the plumbing for the hydraulics and the accumulator and the overflow tank for the oil is all fine.”

Cannibalizing the FCS’s electrical components from Defiant and putting them into Patriot has been vital. “Luckily, we have two boats and spares of almost everything,” Dressler says.

A man inside the dark hull of an America's Cup 75 inspecting the interior hull skin.
Boatbuilder Brian Porter inspects the interior of American Magic’s AC75 Patriot. Sailing Energy

The option of recommissioning Defiant and racing it for the remainder of the regatta was quickly taken off the table, given the team’s belief that Patriot is a far superior platform. “We have such a strong belief in Patriot, and we are confident it’s a fast boat,” Dressler says. “We just have to get it back on the water. That’s our boat.”

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Speculation that a dislodged Lithium battery caused the hole in the boat was immediately dismissed by the team following the capsize, and Dressler confirms the batteries were hastily removed by fellow grinder Luke Payne, who went into the boat once it was righted to retrieve them. “I think it was a matter of preserving them and a factor of risk that you don’t want to submerge lithium batteries while you’re doing other things inside,” Dressler says. “There were guys swimming around, trying to plug the hole and trying to get the foil arm underneath the boat. Luke is an electrician by trade and he understands the risk better than I do, and maybe that’s why he got them out of the boat ASAP.”

Dressler’s perspective of the capsize is unique because he faces aft in the port cockpit, sharing a grinding pedestal with Hutchinson. His account is that the boat went “ropy” through the bear away, and as soon as he knew helmsman Dean Barker lost grip on the rudder, he knew it wasn’t going to end well. “There was almost a moment where it felt like we were going to save it, have a bad crash down and be able to take off and keep going, but as soon as you feel the boatspeed drop to practically standstill and you’re at that angle—150 true—you know there is not enough righting moment in the foil to keep the boat upright. You’ll do the slow tip over and then it’s a matter of making sure everyone can get out of their cockpit.”

Of the five sailors in the port cockpit, Dressler says, grinder Tim Hornsby managed to get washed out behind the boat. Barker had an easy exit from his position, but trimmer/grinder Maciel Cicchetti, Dressler and Hutchinson were briefly pinned beneath the mainsail. As previously reported, Dressler had to free Hutchinson, who was still attached to his cockpit with a tether. “We were pretty much fully underwater and pressed by the mainsail,” he says. “It was not a situation where we could stay there for very long and keep breathing.”

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“[Because] we can’t brace our feet against the cockpit wall, we use tethers and padding to keep our bodies stable while we grind because the boats have a lot of jerking around going through maneuvers. They all have quick releases. I think, at that moment, Terry’s, for whatever reason, wasn’t releasing so Cicho was supporting him from behind to make sure he could breathe and I just went down, took my knife out and either cut it or it gave free.”

Dressler says he doesn’t feel Hutchinson was ever in danger, because it happened so quickly—a matter of seconds—but the tether system is something they’re now revisiting, with regard to both equipment and extraction technique.

“Since the capsize, we’ve done a pool session where we practiced. We went in the pool with our gear and spare air and had a little brush-up session.”

Man inside an AC75 installing electrical components
Edgar Cerdá Sanchez, electronics specialist, services wiring and systems inside the AC75. Sailing Energy

As far as sail damage, Dressler says, it was a struggle to get the mainsail down, but once it was off the spar, they managed to flake it over two Emirates Team New Zealand chase boats without further damage. “All the internal manipulation systems go through so much stress in sailing that most of it was OK,” Dressler says. “All of it is repairable with spares. I don’t know about the jib, though, because we ended up using it as a crash blanket for the hole…it was wrapped around the boat for the three-hour tour on the way back to the dock.”

Today, optimism throughout the base is high, he says. Design Production Manager, Silvio Arrivabene recently updated the team on a lunch break, reporting that everything is going to plan. “He basically said he had nothing but good news with the progress. It sounds like we’ll be able to get back on the water with one or two days to spare. We are racing to get back on the water, to do sea trials, make sure there are no bugs and then get into race practice. We need to be sharp enough to bring the heat to whomever we go against in the semifinals.”

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