Defiant back on water as America's Cup World Series nears

The New York Yacht Club's American Magic sailing team returns to the water Tuesday at its winter base in Pensacola, Florida, to resume training for the first warmup regatta for the 36th America's Cup.

American Magic shipped Defiant, its new 75-foot foiling monohull, from Newport, Rhode Island, to Pensacola late last year and got in some training before taking a holiday break.

While waiting for the overdue America's Cup race conditions to be released, American Magic will continue to learn to sail the fantastical-looking yacht, which rises up on hydrofoils and skims over the tops of the waves.

It will then ship the 75-foot yacht to Cagliari, Italy, for the first America's Cup World Series regatta April 23-26.

“We've done a reasonable job of getting to the point where I can say we'll be competitive,” skipper Terry Hutchinson said in a phone interview. “Over the next 12 months, we have to get ourselves as a team into a spot day in, day out, where we're racing the boat hard. We have to have a good balance between performance and reliability, and that we use the opportunity in front of us to learn how to properly race an AC75, which is not like anything any of us have ever raced.

“Once we understand the conditions of the match and how we're actually going to be doing this, we'll be able to hone in on some of this detail."

American Magic isn't happy that the defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, and the Challenger of Record, Italy's Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team, failed to meet the Dec. 20 deadline for issuing the race conditions. The big holdup is that Team New Zealand wants an upper wind limit of 24 knots, which was the same as for the 50-foot foiling catamarans used in Bermuda in 2017, while Luna Rossa wants a 20-knot limit.

The sides have sought mediation. If that's unsuccessful, the America's Cup Arbitration Panel will decide the unresolved issues by March 20.

“Our first thought was, well guys, you've had 2 1/2 years to sort this out, why on Earth would you wait until the 11th hour to determine this?” said Hutchinson, who serves as a grinder. He also said American Magic was unhappy to read various reports that said it and INEOS Team UK had any say in the matter.

“To be crystal clear, these decisions are between the Challenger of Record and defender, and we have zero say in it,’ Hutchinson said. “It's a bit of an insult to be tarred with the same brush. To that point, for the life of me, I don't know what the holdup is. It's pretty simple: Come to an agreement and get on with it.”

Hutchinson said the proposal for 20 knots seems “reasonably soft, but again, we just want to be told. Like most of these things, as a challenger, what we want to avoid is being surprised. Withholding the match conditions is exceptionally disappointing as a competitor. They've had 2 to 2 1/2 years to sort it out. It's consistent with most of the negotiations between Luna Rose and Team New Zealand.”

Hutchinson said he can see the reasoning around the lower vs. higher wind limits, “but we're preparing to win the regatta. Our preparation just needs clarity."

Hutchinson said the Prada Cup final for challengers and the America's Cup match will be meant to emulate each other. The conditions for the challenger selection series are due June 30.

He said American Magic would like to know the race conditions, such as whether there will be racing on consecutive days and rules for crew rotations, so it can be fully prepared if it wins the challenger series and then faces the Kiwis in the 36th America’s Cup match in March 2021 in Auckland. The race conditions will also help syndicates fine-tune designs for their second boats.

American Magic sailed with a half-size boat called the Mule until Defiant was launched last summer.

Hutchinson said sailing the new boat is “awesome. It's like nothing I've ever done before. You don't necessarily get the sense of speed on this boat than when we were on Mule, because we were closer to the water. If you get a sneak peak of the speedo and see how fast we're going, or hear it through the comms system, you think, ‘This is pretty impressive.’”

He said Defiant has hit 40 knots on bear-away maneuvers around the top mark that provide a slingshot effect as it turns from upwind to downwind. During races, he said speeds should be in the high 20s upwind and high 30s downwind.

After Cagliari, the boats will be shipped to Portsmouth, England, for an ACWS regatta June 4-7, and then to Auckland for the final tuneup Dec. 17-20.

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