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Nov 1, 2018

Reclaiming the America’s Cup

199 reasons why this America’s Cup challenge might be different.

Last week, in the fabled model room of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC), American Magic, the brash challengers to the 36th America’s Cup (AC) revealed their new secret weapon: Airbus, the European-based aerospace manufacturing giant. Not just a sponsor, Airbus is an “innovation partner.”

Why would the challenger to the AC, the world’s oldest sports competition, want an aircraft manufacturer to lend a hand? According to key backers Hap Fauth and Roger Penske, both of whom spoke at the event, the relevant word is “flying.”

On the cavernous walls, portraits of past NYYC commodores must have been spinning in their frames. The models from past AC campaigns, like the Twelve-Meters and the giant “J” boats, looked on in disbelief. After all, a yacht club is not an airplane club. The NYYC held the Cup from 1851 to 1983 and has defended it 24 times over 126 years. 

The races, set for 2021 in New Zealand, will be “sailed” on foiling mono-hull boats.  Ultra-high-tech “T” foils will propel them out of the water and through the air. The team of billionaires behind the challenge are undaunted by the effort needed to unseat the powerhouse Kiwis, who won the Cup against Larry Ellison’s Oracle team in Bermuda last year. As Hap Fauth told Worth, “I don’t care that the odds are against us, that first-time challengers have never won the Cup. We will not fail. I am not used to failure.”

Hap Fauth, American Magic’s executive director and skipper Terry Hutchinson and Airbus Commercial Aircraft EVP Engineering Jean-Brice Dumont, announce the innovation partnership between Airbus and American Magic in the New York Yacht Club. Photo by Enrique Shore

According to sailing legend Terry Hutchinson (skipper and executive director of American Magic), “Airbus’ expertise and personnel will be critical to a Cup-winning design team. This engineering partnership has been active for the better part of 2018 and is nothing short of awesome. Together we will push sailing technology forward, win the biggest prize in the sport and inspire sailors here at home and around the world.”

Jean-Brice Dumont, the engineering honcho at Airbus, echoed the thought, saying, “Our goal is to make sure American Magic has the fastest 75-foot flying yacht on the water.” Mono-hull foiling has never been done on this scale.

Indeed, American Magic will need all the help they can get, because the Kiwis won the 35th Cup based on their superior use of foils. Those of us who were in Bermuda witnessed their flawless program of brilliant software, boat design and super-human brawn to power their foiling/flying catamaran at speeds in excess of 50 knots.

According to Fauth, there is a great team in place. That would be “38 designers working with us and world-famous boat designers Botin Partners, 40 craftspeople constructing two boats at our purpose-build yard in Bristol, R.I., 21 sailors to man the boats and 100 management personnel to create a global brand.”

If you do the math, 199 people are behind the effort…and this is early on. More people will be added as the date gets closer.

Terry Hutchinson summed-up the design, construction and sailing skills needed to win back the Cup. His words echoed off the countless silver yachting trophies on display: “Someone is going to be right and someone is going to be wrong.” For everyone rooting for this effort, let’s hope the American Magic challenge is the former.

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