'We had to cut ourselves out with knives' — American Magic skipper reveals Prada Cup capsize drama

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Tom Cary
·7 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
American Magic was left with a huge hole in the underside of the hull - AFP
American Magic was left with a huge hole in the underside of the hull - AFP

American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson has revealed that some of his crew members had to cut themselves free with knives after their spectacular capsize in the Prada Cup in Auckland on Sunday, describing it as a hugely “unnerving” ordeal.

Hutchinson added that the extensive damage to the boat meant there was no chance of the team racing in the second round-robin phase of the Prada Cup this weekend, with the team’s goal to be back on the water before the semi-finals which begin on Jan 29.

American Magic’s 75ft foiling monohull ‘Patriot’ was lifted spectacularly out of the water at close to 50mph after attempting a difficult tack-bear away manoeuvre at the final windward gate in a race against fellow America’s Cup challengers Luna Rossa on Sunday. The boat crashed back down on its port side, with some of the crew caught underneath the huge mainsail.

American Magic had been leading at the time and on course for their first point in the challenger series, which will determine who goes on to face defenders New Zealand in the America’s Cup match in March.

“It was pretty hairball,” Hutchinson said, recalling the incident for the first time in a press conference on Monday. “We ended up with knives out, cutting ourselves out. Fortunately we were all out probably within a minute. Underneath the mainsail is unnerving to say the least.”

Terry Hutchinson of New York Yacht Club American Magic speaks at a press conference after round two races of the 2021 Prada Cup
Terry Hutchinson of New York Yacht Club American Magic speaks at a press conference after round two races of the 2021 Prada Cup

There have been incidents in the America’s Cup in the past where sailors have died following capsizes. Andrew Simpson, the British Olympic champion, suffered multiple blows to his head and body when the Swedish America's Cup catamaran in which he was sailing capsized in San Francisco in 2013. He was trapped in the wreckage for 10 minutes and unconscious when found.

American Magic had gone over in Defiant, their first AC75 race boat, last autumn. But Hutchinson said they were two very different experiences, with a genuine concern this time that the boat was going to sink.

“When we tipped over on Defiant, the boat was quite buoyant,” he said. “So I don’t think we realised the severity of the situation [on Sunday] at first. My first tell-tale sign was there was a lot of water where I was. The guys forward jumped out and bailed out but we were under a lot of water straight away.

“From there it escalated really quickly. Chase 3 [one of the team’s safety boats which follows behind] pulled a piece of carbon out of the water and communicated over to Tyson [Lamond, boat captain] that there was probably a hole in the boat. That raised everyone’s eyebrows very quickly. At the time it felt like the boat was going to sink.”

All 11 crew were quickly accounted for but frantic scenes saw chase boats from rival teams come in to assist a salvage operation that went on well into the evening. Flotation devices and support vessels had to be attached to the boat to keep it above the surface, with pumps used to remove water from the hull.

“We ended up with 16 pumps inside the boat and two airplane style life rafts that we wrapped underneath the bow of the boat and inflated them,” said Hutchinson, a veteran of four America’s Cup campaigns. “That really stopped the bleeding.”

Video footage of ‘Patriot’ when it was finally lifted out of the water at close to 10pm local time revealed a huge hole in the underside of the hull. Hutchinson said the panel had been “guillotined” by the support structure inside the boat.

“I think the easiest part of it is probably rebuilding it,” he added. “The hardest part is getting electronics on the inside up to speed. We are fortunate that we got both batteries out of the boat. We’re fortunate that all the hydraulic fluid inside the yacht stayed inside the yacht - it’s a closed system. We’re thankful none of that stuff ended up in the Gulf.”

Hutchinson said the team would now try to make it back for the semi-finals of the Prada Cup on Jan 29, which will be against either Ineos Team UK or Luna Rossa.

Ineos currently lead the round robin series with four points to Luna Rossa’s two points. The winner of the round robin will automatically qualify for the Prada Cup final (first to seven race wins).

“We have 11 days,”Hutchinson said, adding that the team may use “bits and pieces” from Defiant to rebuild Patriot. “She may not come out of the shed that pretty, but she’s going to come out the shed to get back into racing.”

Hutchinson concluded by thanking his rivals once again for their assistance - Team New Zealand even brought pizzas out to the rescue site, which was 10 miles from the team’s base. He also stressed the team in no way blamed helmsman Dean Barker for the decision to tack-bear away.

British sailor Paul Goodison, a wing trimmer on the boat, could be heard over the team communications shortly before the capsize warning that it would be difficult to carry out the manoeuvre safely. But Hutchinson said he was happy with the decision, with no way of knowing that the wind would rise suddenly to 23 knots.

“From 18 to 23 knots the time was about three seconds,” he said. “Had we taken the right turn and a lazy gybe we probably would've hooked into it and we wouldn't be having this conversation. But you don't know. And when we make the decision we make the decision and we live and die by those decisions.

“Dean made the correct decision to tack around the left gate, keep us in the pressure and just try to deliver us down to the finish. We got hit by a reasonably big gust.”

Barker, a New Zealand sailor, was famously on the helm when New Zealand lost an 8-1 lead to Oracle Team USA in the 34th Cup in San Francisco. Hutchinson said the team would rally around him, adding that he did not see an issue with his own role on the boat, being both tactician and grinder. Giles Scott, Ainslie’s tactician on the Ineos boat, has a much freer role by contrast.

“I have complete faith in Andrew and Goody and Dean,” Hutchinson said. “I was seeing what Dean saw which was that there was a truck load of wind coming down the left side and it was right to be on that side.

“I think we win as a team and lose as a team. Dean has a bit of ice in his veins which is what the boat requires. I will always encourage him not to take his foot off the pedal. As a team we have the utmost confidence in his abilities. There’s no one I’d rather have on the wheel.”

With American Magic not sailing this weekend, there will be just two races – one on Friday and one on Sunday –between Ineos Team UK and Luna Rossa.

Should Ineos win either race, they will go through to the Prada Cup final automatically, with Italy facing the United States in a first-to-four semi-final.

Should Luna Rossa win both races, they and Ineos would be tied on 4 points apiece but the Italians would progress on countback, leaving Ineos to face American Magic in the semi-final.