High drama in the Prada Cup day three as American Magic capsize and look to have caused some serious damage to their AC75

It was the sort of day where you felt like something might go wrong at any moment on the Waitematā Harbour in Auckland as the three challengers prepared for racing in the Prada Cup day three – the precursor to the America’s Cup.

And go wrong it did for American Magic, skippered by New Zealander, Dean Barker as they capsized and look to have done some serious damage to their AC75, though all crew are confirmed safe. The situation is still very much live as the team fight to save their boat.

UPDATE Monday 18th January 2021: American Magic did manage to return their boat to the dock without it sinking, but with significant damage. See here for Skipper Terry Hutchinson’s analysis of what went wrong, how the damage was caused and how long it will take to repair.  

Throughout the course of the day the wind was up, there were big waves, and dark ominous rain clouds were passing over the course bringing significant shifts and pressure increases along with them.

As commentator Nathan Outteridge, who seems to have a savant-like ability to predict what the Cup teams will do even before they have decided themselves, observed before racing: “They’re out there in the roughest part of the harbour today. I’m a little shocked that we’re out here [on this race course]. I don’t think many of these teams were thinking they’d have to sail in these kind of conditions in these kinds of waves).

“It’s going to be a good test for the structure of these boats isn’t it?”

In the second race of the day, American Magic was leading Luna Rossa Pirelli Prada into the final upwind gate in a significant wind increase on the front of yet another cloud. The American America’s Cup team were approaching the gate on port and wanted to go to the left hand side of the course (looking upwind) to remain in the increased pressure.

This would require a tack at the mark immediately followed by a big bear away to head downwind. This is a tricky manoeuvre to pull off at the best of times. It was clear as they approached the mark that the team were tense with clipped comms and raised voices onboard. During the approach the mainsail trimmer (Brit, Paul Goodison) can clearly be heard saying this is going to be a ‘a hard manoeuvre, a real hard manoeuvre’.

They made it through the tack but with the wind up, as they tired to bear away, the boat immediately became massively overpowered and began to heel to leeward. It also appears that the leeward runner did not release.

These AC75s are unique monohulls in that they have no keel, just the two large foils on either side of the boat. They are designed to be sailed flat or with very moderate amounts of heel to windward or leeward. Once the AC75s end up with any significant heel, the lift dynamics of the foils change rapidly and they become almost impossible to keep upright. And so we saw today as the American boat heeled over, the foil lift changed and the bow was launched into the sky. From there, there is little to no hope of saving the boat from a capsize.

Photo: Luna Rossa Pirelli Prada

This is something we have seen before from a number of boats and, in fact, American Magic nearly did exactly the same thing on their first day on the water in this, their second, AC75. All crew were quickly confirmed safe.

Initially we were told that the AC75 would be able to self right in the event of a capsize, by dropping the heavy windward foil while the boat is on her side. However, there has been no evidence that this is possible and we have yet to see one of the boats right without the help of a powerboat. To that end it was no surprise that the American Magic support boat was quickly on the scene to help out with the race effectively over and the win going to Luna Rossa.

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However, it took a great deal of time to right the boat and it quickly became clear that something was wrong. As more support vessels, both from the organisers and other teams came over to help, American Magic was eventually righted. But she was sitting incredibly low, having clearly taken on significant amounts of water.

More worrying still, she seemed to be getting lower with the bow soon fully submerged. It briefly looked as though the whole boat may be lost. As help rallied round from the other teams’ support crews, some of the racing marks were also brought alongside in order to try to keep the boat afloat and the fire department turned up with industrial pumps to try to clear the water from within the hull. Divers were sent down too, in order to identify the problem and potentially find some way to staunch the flow of water.

As we write this, the boat is under tow on its way back to the dock dock, but they were still at sea at 11pm Auckland local time, the recovery mission far from over.

Even if the American Boat is able to get back to dock there are a whole host of concerns. What – and how significant – is the structural damage that is allowing the boat to take on water. What condition are the electrics and the hydraulics in, which control almost every aspect of an AC75? These are questions for another day, at the moment the fight to get the boat back home is still very much live.

The only slight sliver of positive news for the Americans is that further Prada Cup racing will not take place until next weekend, so there is at least some time to repair what needs to be repaired, but it is a small chink of light in an otherwise grey day for the team.

American Magic have released the following statement:

The team’s AC75 racing yacht, PATRIOT, was damaged during the incident and began taking on water. American Magic received rapid assistance from the three other America’s Cup teams, along with America’s Cup Event Ltd, the race management team, Coastguard New Zealand, the Auckland Harbormaster, and local fire and police personnel.

Efforts to stabilize PATRIOT and get the yacht back to shore are currently underway. American Magic is sincerely thankful for all of the assistance rendered to the team following today’s incident.

Brits unbeaten

With all the capsize action it is easy to forget that we did see some racing today. The first race of the day was set to be Luna Rossa Pirelli Prada against INEOS Team UK.

The race itself had to be abandoned at the first time of asking as a huge rain cloud descended on the course, shifting the wind 90 degrees and making the course essentially unsailable.

The race committee did a great job to get the race underway again shortly thereafter and the twin helms of Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni on Luna Rossa managed to beat the Brits in the start and lead for the opening portion of the race.

However, the more traditional tactician / helmsman role that the Brits have opted for with Giles Scott the former and Ben Ainslie the later once again came into its own. The Brits did a superb job of picking up the shifts and puffs, to overtake and pull away from the Italian team.

This fourth win in a row leaves INEOS Team UK in the lead of the Prada Cup after the first weekend of racing, and the only team not to have conceded a race so far. But, such is the drama from the American camp, the racing itself will not be the story of the day.

Here’s hoping American Magic can get their boat home and sorted in time for next week. they looked quick today and were romping away from Luna Rossa before their capsize.

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