Terry Hutchinson is one of the world’s best tacticians, but he’s yet to achieve his ultimate ambition. Sean McNeill finds out what it takes to call the shots at the top
American professional sailor Terry Hutchinson has been called many things in his 40-year career racing sailboats. Brash. Outspoken. A horse’s you-know-what. And they’re among the less incendiary labels – comments typically lodged from competitors who are turned off by Hutchinson’s histrionics on the racecourse or envious of his success as a tactician.
Those who know him best, the owners and sailors he races with, the beneficiaries of his talents, use more complimentary words. Intense. Driven. A softie. Emotional. An amazing talent. A close friend.
Words don’t phase Terry Hutchinson. Say something negative to his face, he’ll likely shrug his shoulders and reply with a more biting comment back about your own character. He’s developed thick skin over the years. If it’s on the more complimentary side, he may return the favour, but still with a dash of bite. He falls on the brutally honest side of commentary, a trait developed through years of working at the back of the boat where a single word can determine a whole campaign’s fate.
“I’ve known Terry a long time, since he was a young guy in Annapolis, maybe around 12 years old,” says Gary Jobson, America’s Cup-winning tactician and mentor to Hutchinson. “Every time you hear about Terry, he’s at or near the front of the fleet. He’s very intense on a sailboat. He focuses hard, winning is really important to him. He doesn’t take any prisoners.”
“Terry is very good at what he does. He’s one of the best tacticians around,” says New Zealander Warwick Fleury, mainsail trimmer on Quantum Racing. “No matter what the programme is, America’s Cup or TP52s or whatever, he absolutely gives 100%. I don’t think he differentiates between classes. When the race is on, it’s 100% effort. I really enjoy sailing with him.”
Terry Hutchinson has built a résumé that places him in the top echelon of sailing professionals. He has an ability to attract the best sailors to the programmes he runs by offering them a chance to win and earn good money, while giving them control of their area. It’s incumbent on each sailor to pull their weight and push the team forward. “Win as a team, lose as a team” is his mantra.
Terry Hutchinson – Target driven
Terry Hutchinson started sailing at the community-minded West River Sailing Club on the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, and later moved into double-handed 420 dinghies. His first major title came at age 16, when he won the US 420 Nationals, and he graduated as a back-to-back (1989/90) College Sailor of the Year at Old Dominion University, no easy feat in a field of big egos.
Hutchinson has since won in the Farr 40s and TP52s, Melges 24s, Maxi 72s and IMS Worlds, J/24s and J/70s (his own current boat). He is currently skipper and president of sailing operations of the American Magic America’s Cup team, the New York Yacht Club team challenging for the America’s Cup. His career appears to be following the plan he laid out aged 22, shortly after graduating.
“I set three goals for myself,” says the 55-year-old Hutchinson. “I wanted to win the J/24 Worlds. I wanted to win the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. And I wanted to win the America’s Cup.”
He ticked off his first goal, winning the desired J/24 Worlds in 1998. It was also his first world championship; he’s since won 16 world titles in a variety of classes.
Ten years after that win, he won his first Rolex Yachtsman of the Year award for his role as tactician guiding Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand in the 32nd America’s Cup off Valencia, Spain in 2007.
The team dominated the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger selection series, beating Italy’s Luna Rossa, with James Spithill on the helm, 5-0 in the final. It was the only shutout victory in the history of the Louis Vuitton Cup, but was followed by a narrow loss to Ernesto Bertarelli’s Swiss defender Alinghi. The third goal on his career trifecta list – an America’s Cup win – would have to wait.
Terry Hutchinson went on to earn a second Rolex Yachtsman of the Year award in 2014 for winning the Farr 40 and TP52 Worlds in the same year. Neither class lacks talent.
“I think very highly of him,” says Hap Fauth, a team principal of American Magic and owner of the Maxi 72 Bella Mente, which Hutchinson has helped to two Maxi World Championship wins (2015 and 2016). “The crew responds well to him; they either love him or hate him. If they hate him, they’re probably not around long. But he works hard at getting the best out of the team. He’s less individually focused and more team oriented.”
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“Terry’s an amazing person and unbelievably talented,” says Doug DeVos, also a team principal of American Magic and owner of the TP52 Quantum Racing (six-times world champions).
“How he approaches sailing and executes it is amazing. He’s a great team leader. He brings people together and gets the best out of them. He’s also relentless. He never throws in the towel.
“His intensity is fun,” adds DeVos. “In one race we had the boat in the wrong position, and I was complaining about it. He looked at me and said, ‘You’re the one with the tiller in your hand. If we’re in a bad spot, maybe you need to do something and move it to a better spot.’
“He wasn’t throwing me under the bus but challenging me to be better.”
His record in big boat racing speaks for itself. But all great athletes have their setbacks on their way to the apex, and for a sailor who can spend more than 300 days on the water every year bouncing from regatta to regatta, Hutchinson has had his share.
In 2004 Terry Hutchinson lost the Congressional Cup, a high profile US match racing event in California, to Ed Baird. His team led Baird by more than one minute at the final windward mark, but on the run to the finish Hutchinson got stuck between the offshore Santa Ana wind and the new onshore breeze and sat, furiously becalmed, while Baird sailed around them to win.
At the awards ceremony on the ritzy Long Beach Yacht Club veranda, Hutchinson dropped a curious off-the-cuff remark, of the type he’s known to have a penchant for. “Well, what can I say,” he said to the audience, smartly bedecked in blue blazers, “cover me in sh*t and put me in a room full of flies.” Eyebrows were raised.
“I think the comment was borne of exasperation that we’d sailed a great regatta and then barely finished within the time limit,” he recalls with hindsight.
Hutchinson’s first role as skipper of an America’s Cup team came with Artemis Racing for the 34th Cup in San Francisco in 2013, but he never made it to the starting line. He was fired eight months before the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series even began. Problems with the Artemis first boat led to finger pointing between the sailing and design teams. It ultimately fell on Paul Cayard, the team leader, to let Hutchinson go.
“The Artemis thing was tough,” says Cayard, who had also given Hutchinson his first Cup role as mainsail trimmer with America One in 2000. “There were serious problems with the design team and the product they gave us, and he was a bit of collateral damage.
“It worked out for him because we went nowhere after he left. Now, he’s one of the top guys in the world in the sport. We all create our own paths. He found his path.”
Time of crisis
Terry Hutchinson’s most dramatic fall occurred in Auckland at the 36th America’s Cup. After four years of training, testing and waiting out Covid, American Magic (with Hutchinson as skipper and Dean Barker helmsman) arrived in New Zealand brimming with confidence. Their navy-hulled Patriot showed hints of world beating form, the fastest of the challengers in the early World Series and the only team to overhaul the Defenders, Emirates Team New Zealand. The team’s opening run, however, was undone by one of the most spectacular crashes in America’s Cup history.
On 17 January, 2021, American Magic led Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in a round robin match of the Prada Cup. Hutchinson described the wind conditions as a “fairly benign 12-13 knots” approaching the last windward gate. But as the crew tacked to round the left-hand mark, the wind shifted left and a 23-knot puff hit.
Coming out of the manoeuvre the new leeward side running backstay was not eased quickly enough, pinning the mainsail. Supercharged, the AC75 literally took off. The boatspeed on the live video feed showed Patriot topping 45 knots as it went airborne. The boat flew so high that the leeward foil came clean out of the water, the bow over 30ft in the air.
But once the leeward foil cleared the water, Patriot stopped accelerating and crashed down hard on its side, punching a gaping hole in the hull which rapidly flooded the boat. Hutchinson, in the port hull cockpit, was trapped underwater, pinned by the mainsail. His safety harness wouldn’t release. He might not be here today if not for quick work by his grinding mate Cooper Dressler, who cut Hutchinson’s tether, allowing him to surface.
“At the time you’re thinking, ‘This is not good’. I was swallowing water,” recalls Hutchinson. “That was a tough one. I owe Cooper and Sea Tow forever, they got me out of the boat. We practised and trained for capsizes, but what got us was the fact the boat had a hole in it. Our side of the boat sank, and we weren’t prepared for that. Cooper and I were in the narrowest part of the cockpit, pinned by the mainsail. It’s a moment I prefer to forget.”
Once all crew were accounted for, the realisation set in that Patriot was sinking. The team only grasped there was a huge hole in the hull when one of the tenders picked up a floating piece of carbon. The hole was caused by a section of transverse structure slicing through the boat like a guillotine. “The boat’s designed for a certain amount of impact, but I can tell you we were well beyond the threshold,” Hutchinson said after the incident.
Patriot only remained afloat thanks to the frantic work of American Magic’s support RIBs, joined by other teams. It took hours to stabilise the situation, but the 75ft foiler – that took 80,000-man hours to build – was saved.
Devastated by the incident, Terry Hutchinson galvanised the American Magic team. Patriot’s hull had to be rebuilt and the entire electronics package replaced. With a lot of help from the Cup community, the American Magic team was back on the water just 10 days later for the semi-finals of the Prada Cup. Though they were quickly eliminated, Hutchinson received high praise for his leadership that saw the team bounce back from a near-sinking.
“I think Terry did a spectacular job not only responding to the terrible situation but holding the team together throughout the repair process,” says Fauth. “We knew that when we got back on the water, we wouldn’t be very competitive, but we did it, and I give Terry lots of credit for that.”
Terry Hutchinson’s ability to bounce back is something that his TP52 team mate Warwick Fleury also lauds him for. Check Quantum Racing’s scorelines: they’ll have bad races, bad days here and there, but rarely two in a row. “That happens so often that you can’t discount it; you almost come to rely on it,” says Fleury. “After a bad performance, it’s just about inevitable that the next day will be better. He probably doesn’t sleep at night worrying and thinking about it. But that sets him apart. What sets great sportsmen apart from very good ones is the ability to perform under pressure.”
Soon, Hutchinson and American Magic will have a chance to demonstrate how they can come back once again. The 37th America’s Cup will take place in September 2024 in Barcelona, Spain, with the first America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta this September.
New York Yacht Club American Magic is a rebuilt team, with new sailors and new designers and a new CEO (Mike Cazer, former COO at Amway Corporation, while DeVos is co-chair of Amway). Hutchinson’s role has also been redefined. He still carries the skipper’s title but will not be part of the sailing crew, while his role as president of sailing operations sees him facilitating communication between the sailing team and design team. He’s the big overseer, leaning on his experiences to support the sailing team and interject where appropriate, striving to keep the whole effort moving forward.
“We have to do whatever it takes to win, full stop!” says Hutchinson. “If I can serve the team better in the chase boat, then so be it. I am a competitive person and the opportunity to win is what we all seek. I am certain achieving the goal will be a culmination of 25 years of work and the champagne will taste the same!”
Thick skin and all, Hutchinson’s ability to keep looking forward is his greatest strength. Life, after all, is a collection of experiences from which you grow. Winning the 37th America’s Cup would be his greatest bounce back ever.
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