Finest Hour

Aside from being a Starboat sailor, John F. Kennedy had a turn of phrase that could inspire a nation and his take on a crisis was one of the finer examples. “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” Thankfully for the American Magic Team, they got through the ‘danger’ part of the equation and the pathway ahead, hard as it may well be over the next 240 hours until the semi-finals, is laden with opportunity.

© Sailing Energy / American Magic

Yesterday the team published their ‘Fight to Save Patriot’ video (see below) with team footage showing the real, harsh, raw emotions and the desperate salvage attempt. It’s a compelling watch. What strikes me hardest is the human element. Real people, dedicated to one goal, devastated but determined. Their faces etched with exhaustion as Terry Hutchinson brought them together and set the compass direction due forward, addressing them superbly, collectively, one team with a giant mission ahead of them. There’s also the compassion – at one point a crew member comes up to Terry and asks “you okay?” The briefest pause and the briefest response. ‘Yup” are the words you can lip-read. Inspirational.

The mountain this team now has to climb cannot be underestimated but with a logical process, which has been the hallmark of American Magic’s campaign, and the sheer will and resources available, they can not only get back on the water but get back and compete at the very highest level. Patriot was rapid in the breeze on Sunday and the sailors were sailing well. Dean Barker was laying it down hard on the Italians. Match racing at 40 knots. It was a brilliant performance. Arguably, to the point of capsize, the performance of the Cup so far.

Whilst journalists on the scene can opine in wonder at just how the capsize occurred, for most of us who have sailed dinghies or high performance yachts, we all know just what happened and we’ve all been there – albeit not at 40 knots. The amount of times we’ve done a Cowes Week or Annapolis Week or whatever and it’s ‘Windy Tuesday’ and we’ve gone for that bear away, the loads have tightened, the rudder stalls out and we’re headlong into a broach looking like the amateurs we are as the crew fights with the spinnaker or asymmetric, is too many to mention. The American Magic capsize was our regatta sailing on steroids. It was a racing incident.

©Will Ricketson / American Magic

And as for the notion that it was somehow down to a miss-call from Barker is just nonsense. If anything it was a high confidence call and a complete confidence-in-his-crew and boat handling call. This is the America’s Cup. This isn’t a club race. And top helmsman are paid to drive these things hard and to the limit. Can you imagine the kicking that the Americans would have taken if they had bottled it, bore away to the right hand gate and sat in 12 knots of breeze whilst the Italians whistled by? We’d never hear the end of it. Lewis Hamilton doesn’t drive Formula 1 cars at half pace. He drives it like he stole it. Dean Barker was driving the wheels off Patriot and I have nothing but the highest respect for him.

So as the midnight oil burns on a 24 hour a day mission now to get Patriot back in the water, my thoughts go out to those team members, you know, the unsung ones who don’t get the spotlight – the carbon workers, the electronics guys, the mechatronics team, the chefs (and they do an awesome job in a crisis), the comms team, the wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends supporting their partners through this, the sailmakers, the engineers, the toolers, the grafters.

And I am reminded of the great Winston Churchill line: “When you are going through hell. Keep going.”

Keep going Patriot. This could well be your finest hour. This is the story of the Cup and the world is willing you to succeed.


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7 thoughts on “Finest Hour

  1. Yep.

    ETNZ smashed their rig to pieces in the Bermuda pitch pole and got it sailing again for the next race. A bigger job for AM but they have far better local resources to support them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “And as for the notion that it was somehow down to a miss-call from Barker is just nonsense”

    Well, yes in hindsight this is true and I was a bit critical of the decision making… This isn’t a 12 meter trundling upwind at 8 knots, with decisions being made over a cup of tea. Approaching that mark at over 30kt *upwind*, getting pounded, and had about 10 seconds to plan the rounding.

    My god, this has more in common with motor racing corners than sailing marks.


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