New York wants our America’s Cup back

Former Team NZ tactician Terry Hutchinson is bringing the New York Yacht Club back into the America’s Cup fray. He tells Suzanne McFadden what he thinks of the “beast” of a boat he’ll sail on, and why he must make this Cup count.

Terry Hutchinson, skipper of the New York Yacht Club’s challenge for the America’s Cup, knows that this is quite possibly his last shot at capturing sailing’s holy grail.

The 2021 regatta, conceivably to be raced on the Hauraki Gulf, will be his fourth attempt. It would have been five had he remained skipper of the 2013 Artemis challenge - but he was dropped from the team, not long before the fatal capsize of their 72ft catamaran on San Francisco Bay.

The closest Hutchinson has come to uplifting the feted silverware was with Team New Zealand in 2007, when he was tactician to Dean Barker in their unsuccessful Cup faceoff with Alinghi.

And now he has another chance, at the forefront of the Bella Mente Quantum Racing syndicate, which flies the burgee of the New York Yacht Club, the longest guardians of the America’s Cup.

“I can’t imagine I’m going to get many more opportunities after this, at least in a sailing capacity. I need to make this one count,” Hutchinson says.

Recognised around the globe as the sailor hidden behind lashings of white sunscreen and wrap-around sunglasses (he’s prone to skin cancers), Hutchinson turns 50 next May. But he’s buoyed by the fact that other yachtsmen of his generation have won the America’s Cup late in their sailing careers. Fellow American Ed Baird was 49 when he drove Alinghi to victory in 2007.

Although he sat out the multihull era of the Cup, an intensely competitive Hutchinson couldn’t abandon his desire to win the Auld Mug. He recounts the story of returning home the day he was let go from Artemis, and his daughter Katherine, then 11, saying: “Daddy, I’m sorry you can’t keep chasing your dream.”

Now the dream is in front of him once again. But to pursue it, Hutchinson will first have to learn how to tame “the beast” - the new AC75 boat that will be his ride.

The core of Hutchinson’s sailing crew is likely to come from the two monohull class programmes he has run over the last five years: the 72ft maxi Bella Mente and the TP52 class Quantum Racing. The wealthy owners of these very successful boats, financier John “Hap” Fauth and Amway president Doug DeVos respectively, are the team principals of this America’s Cup campaign.

Hutchinson has had glittering triumphs in both classes, claiming a cluster of world championship crowns and victories at major regattas around the world. It was almost as if he was prepping for the return of the monohulls to the America’s Cup.

That U-turn was, of course, was one of the spurs for NYYC’s comeback to the Cup after a 17-year absence. But what was their reaction when Team NZ revealed a monohull – but with radical foils – for 2021?

“I think our view is that the animation of the boat is pretty impressive – I don’t think it will disappoint,” says Hutchinson, who was briefed on the logic behind the design at an informal competitors meeting, led by Team NZ head Grant Dalton and chief designer Dan Bernasconi. Italians Luna Rossa and the British BAR Challenge were in the room too.

“I guess, in a very simplistic way, I don’t get terribly fussed about what the boat is or is not. The defenders have earned the right to choose what they want to do, and that’s the path they’ve chosen.

“It means we have to put a team in place that can think creatively, and outside the box; who can produce a fast piece of equipment that can give us a chance of winning. Just looking at it, you know it’s going to be incredible.”

Bella Mente Quantum Racing have already signed up Marcelino Botin, the revered Spanish naval architect who was Team NZ’s principle designer from 2004 to 2011. Hutchinson had worked with Botin on a Cup campaign before, but the designer had also drawn up five TP52 boats that Hutchinson has sailed.

“There were a couple of components to us organising a challenge, and Marcelino being the designer was one of them. I’m not sure we would have gone all the way to where we are right now if he wasn’t a part of it,” Hutchinson says.

Getting the design of this new-age monohull exactly right will be critical for Hutchinson’s team, as he admits they are already behind the eight-ball.

“There’s time we’re trying to make up here. While we’ve been sailing and racing for the last five years, our design and production side hasn’t been operational. Team New Zealand have been around forever, BAR are into their second Cup cycle, and Luna Rossa have been operational in some form for quite a while,” he says.

“Without question, the fastest and most reliable boat will win the next America’s Cup, and that’s why we have to get strong in our design, build and infrastructure teams. We’ve been running pretty hard since July, getting organised, but we are far from completely sorted.”

There will be work to do in the sailing team too. Hutchinson and his crewmates will do training camps in the Moth, a one-man hydroplaning dinghy, to learn the art of foiling.

“That’s going to be a great opportunity to understand, at least initially, what it takes to sail on foils,” Hutchinson says.

So, is he looking forward to this new sailing experience? “Absolutely. Without question. You know this thing is going to be a beast. And I’m excited by it… there’s something very cool about it.”

There’s something really cool, too, about representing one of the world’s most illustrious yacht clubs.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have this partnership – the role this club has played the history of the America’s Cup is incredible,” Hutchinson says. “I was there six weeks ago, with the principals and Marcellino, and we were taken on a tour of the Model Room.”

The NYYC’s grand Model Room houses scale models of every boat that has sailed in the America’s Cup since 1851.

“It’s quite incredible to have them on our side. And that comes with an immense responsibility. They are going to see a team who works hard and waves the burgee proudly.”

And Hutchinson is savouring the chance to sail in Auckland again. It’s where he has done most of his Cup sailing – with AmericaOne in 2000, Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes in 2003, and then in the testing and trialling before Valencia 2007. It’s where his three kids, now all teenagers, did a lot of their growing up.

To your everyday sailing fan, 2021 seems an eon away. But to Hutchinson, the myriad deadlines between now and then are approaching at speed.

He speaks to me on his phone from the departure lounge of Detroit Metro Airport, en route from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the syndicate is building a new TP52 to race next year. He has one night at home in Annapolis before heading to New York for a production meeting for the new Bella Mente maxi, which will also be part of the crew’s racing build-up.

“We’ve got a lot going on, so in some respects we’re not making it easy on ourselves. Over the next 12 months we’ll do some match-racing and a little foiling development. Behind the scenes, we’ll get the operational side of the team going. It’s hard to believe that this time next year, we will be six months into the build of the first AC75,” Hutchinson says.

“This America’s Cup is already happening to us very, very quickly.”

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