Rolling Stones

The fourth track on Bob Dylan’s masterpiece album ‘Bringing it all back home’ reveals a line that has been in my mind for well over three decades: “There’s no success like failure. And failure’s no success at all.” It’s a message that needs separating and decoding. Essentially from failure you are on the journey to success. But if failure stops the journey, then success is lost and it’s a full stop. As a lifelong fan of Minnesota’s finest lyricist, it seems apt in the context of the Cup.

© Sailing Energy / American Magic

If you’re part of the American Magic team waking up after the cacophony and chaos of the last two weeks, you are waking from a relentless vision and programme that has been your life for three long years. You could be forgiven for feeling empty, directionless, like a rolling stone wandering where the wind blows you next. In actual fact this could well be just a pitstop on the path to future glory. Sport at the highest level is brutal. Its inherent basis is that there are winners and losers.

The America’s Cup is about winning but getting there demands a commitment to the commitment as a baseline but then a whole number of factors need to come together in perfect symmetry all at once – when it matters. Luck, sadly, is one of the parts of the equation that nobody can factor into the overall outcome with any degree of confidence. Things need to go your way. Momentum, an unstoppable momentum, needs to build into your team. Self-belief in the vessel and those all around you needs to be nurtured. And supporting patrons with a certain belief need to be unshakeable in their desire for the ultimate prize in world sailing.

Corralling these forces requires leadership and there’s an often used line that ‘pessimists complain about the wind, optimists expect it to change, leaders adjust the sails’ and for Terry Hutchinson it’s a case of doing just that. The New York Yacht Club challenge was sailing in smooth waters right up until the tempest hit in that squally peel-off with the subsequent capsize that ultimately cost them the tournament. Ironically they were leading at the time. The world was watching a devastating boatspeed and match-race masterclass – to be honest I was 300 words into writing that the comeback was on and that Magic was about to regain its place at the top of the betting standings. In 20 seconds it all came crashing to a thunderous crescendo and in reality, hope faded and dreams were close to sunk.

© Sailing Energy / American Magic

The fact that the team moved heaven and earth to get back out racing is testament to just how strong the American Magic spirit is. Stopping now would see that spirit evaporate like the angel’s share on a whisky cask. Keeping it going would be the ultimate sporting statement of desire and I would urge Hap Fauth, Doug DeVos and Roger Penske to seriously consider a renewed commitment. Something so good is so hard to find and were it not for one catastrophic bear-away, the story of this Cup cycle would no doubt be very different today.

Terry Hutchinson is a magnificent leader. Wall Street CEO standard. He’s honest, true, loyal and respectful with a measured persona that sets a tone from the top that’s hard to better. Old father time may preclude him from racing these machines in the next cycle but as a figurehead you would be hard-pressed to find a better person to lead the NYYC Challenge for 2025. That may seem a while away – and a few hundred million dollars – but great teams take time to come together. This is already a great team that did very little wrong in this cycle. The performances when it mattered didn’t equal the promise and were poor reward for the effort implied. The Cup, as I say, is a brutal place.

© Sailing Energy / American Magic

So whilst the Americans pause to lick their wounds, the Italians advance with relief exuding from every pore. The celebrations were wild. A casual observer would have thought they had won the America’s Cup, not the first losers race. And the narrative from the crews was all about ‘payback’ and settling scores with the Poms. Let’s not forget that Prada lost three times against the Ainslie machine in the Round Robins and in the final race, Ineos had a cunningham rammed on at 75% in an upwind setting and still won. Prada are claiming a 10% improvement, they will need all of that and more, but against Magic those claims are hard to rubbish. The comms were crisp and clear. The boat looked good. Stable flight was established.

But let me say this. When I’m cruising around the Solent with my family onboard, the chances of me raising my voice in stress are next to zero. I may politely ask for a sausage roll or for a line to be gently eased but I certainly won’t be animated and my tone will be crisp, clear, soft, professional perhaps?

Put me on an 80-boat start line at an Etchells Worlds in one of those cheating Aussie boats with the long waterline that I, and everyone else knows, is faster than all the rest and it’s a study in stress. I have to win. I have no excuse to lose. And that’s where it all goes wrong.

My point here is that even in these monstrous yet magnificent AC75s there is a cruise mode and Prada was cruising all the way through that semi-final. Once they saw the VMG gain off that first start, it was a walk in the park. Stick Ainslie on their tails and it’s a whole other matter. Starts will be hotly contested. Moves will be called to cause splits. Every trick in the book will be thrown and if the boats are anywhere near close in speed and VMG, then it’s all on. They will be. And the Italians will be right back in the comms and co-ordination nightmare of before.

Just watch it. My money’s on Ineos. I simply don’t believe the Italians have it in them to face off and face up to the hottest sailors on the planet.

I know it’s only rock n roll but I like it.

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12 thoughts on “Rolling Stones

  1. Great insights on making success from failure. I’ve always said I never loose.If you are lookin’ back, that’s where you’re going. We skied with Billy Kid once… he said, “Look at the spaces, ski for the spaces, If you look at the trees, you’re going to hit a tree.

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    1. Good quote! And spot on…Enzo Ferrari said “what’s behind you doesn’t matter” and through the lens of defeat you set a pathway to victory. I hope A,Eric an Magic continues. Great team.

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  2. Look Magnus, I don’t buy all of that. The money behind the talent – and they would have been ruthless in making their billions – are unlikely to say “Nice job guys. Just bad luck. Great image. Fine PR. Credit to the ol’ NYYC. Let’s have another crack at it.” The team were admirable throughout and gracious in defeat but… this was a team with a potent machine, with plenty of cash and time, that was equal or faster, which failed to win a single crucial race. Something went wrong and those who bankrolled the challenge will want to know why. I would, if I had spilled a few million $$s just to get plaudits for being a great team. Harsh? What do I know.

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    1. It’s a good opinion and welcomed. I view it slightly more sympathetically. And at the end of the day, the money involved is half what Chelsea spent in the summer on three players. Chump change. I think they should keep going and would love to see the syndicate carrying on.

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      1. All this goodwill is heartwarming but I would like to be a fly on the NYYC wall at the debrief. It’s a brutal game and while there are a few highs – TNZ mending that hole – mostly it’s payback time and dirty tricks. As for small (you’re a chump to invest in the America’s Cup!) change, you make billions by counting your millions and who you trust to spend it.

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  3. Magnus,
    What is it with the never ending American Magic love fest? You have told us that AM are always very professional (nice?)in their dealings with you but I can’t help feeling that if that level of performance had been delivered by Prada, or Ineos, you would have excoriated them. And rightly so.

    Having shown a decent level of competitiveness before Christmas AM entered the round robins looking like their level hadn’t moved forward in the same way as the others. On top of that race craft was poor but the excuses began. It’s just a lottery. Sailboat racing is inherently unfair. That’s part of the game. The only race they looked like winning ( against a tiring Prada, on their third race of the day !) rather than see it out ( that was a good Nikki Lauda reference) they decided winning wasn’t enough and trashed the boat in the process. Again bad luck was blamed. Huge gust. Who could have dealt with that ! The rebuild was very impressive. A monumental effort. In the end only achieved with a lot of help from ETNZ. Grant Dalton realised immediately that he had to get them back on the water to keep the Americas Cup show on the air. Despite that proviso, it was an incredible achievement.

    The return to the water went the way most impartial observers expected. The sort of plucky effort we had come to expect from we Brits but ultimately doomed to failure. Some felt that lighter winds would have given a better chance to find their way. I’m not sure putting smaller foils on a boat that already struggled to foil in the light was going to be a winner. What do I know.

    American Magic do a lot of things well. PR, exceptional. Press conferences, a masterclass. Helped a lot by a very lacklustre press corps ! Don’t get me wrong, these things matter in the Americas Cup. But they shouldn’t be allowed to mask the shortcomings after such an ignominious exit. A lot of the problems were a result of choices made months ago which were not easy to change once it became obvious that others were doing much better with different choices. I was shocked how the wheels came off. I’m sure there will be a lot of soul searching behind the scenes. Will NYYC be back ? Probably. Will Terry be retained. Almost certainly. I’m not sure most football club chairmen would be quite so charitable.(Good comparison with the Chelsea summer spend. Although those players retain value unlike AM ! Anyway, that didn’t end well for Frank did it) Will Terry be on the boat. Very unlikely. Dean ? Toast. Goody. Big pay rise to keep him.

    Conclusion. Great preseason. Relegated before the end of January. Wow.

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    1. I genuinely think they had the fastest package up to the capsize. They were miles ahead of Prada in that race and Dean Barker was match-racing really well. I also think they had another performance level to go saved up for the Final or semis if needed. That capsize changed everything. I don’t think many questions need answering. They were up on pace and looking good. The programme behind the scenes, shoreside, was peerless and the people involved were top drawer. I strongly feel that having an American team in the America’s Cup is vital to its success and I sincerely hope this team can stay together as there were so many positives. At the end of the day, I’m a British supporter and have been very clear of my desire to see them win. I believe they can and I’m willing them to do so. But the Americans have been so professional all the way through this and I have to say I warmed to them. It’s a great shame for them to lose like this and the fairytale would have been a fabulous side-story of this cycle…sadly not to be.

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  4. Sorry. “The programme behind the scenes was… peerless…” Top drawer personnel, shoreside team, that implies the abject failure – let’s not beat around the bush – was due to… something else. What? That capsize? OK, that sealed their fate. As an observer, ignorant of the inside story, I cannot understand why, if peerless in every department, with top class crew, super fast boat that benefited from a well-funded campaign, highly experienced match-honed helmsman, among only a handful capable of steering these machines, etc etc etc it went wrong? I guess I’ll wait for the next Seahorse!

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  5. Now that will be an interesting conversation.

    NYYC : We are here to look into the reasons why such a promising campaign for AC36 ended as it did.
    Terry : I don’t think there are many questions to answer on that one.
    NYYC : Excuse me ?
    Terry : I’ve asked around. People tell me we ran a really professional campaign. We were incredibly organised afloat and ashore. We had the best package. Speed to burn and with a lot more to come. Dean was match racing really well. Tactics were spot on. We were a long way in front but just got so much bad luck.
    NYYC : (Silence)
    Terry : Also, the Cup really needs an American presence to make it worthwhile. To make it a proper contest. They need us to continue just the way we are.
    NYYC : The backers have been asking a few questions.
    Terry : I can’t imagine what would be in question here.
    NYYC : They felt that having been given all the tools required to complete the job it was a little disappointing to be the first team out. Not only the first out but no race wins and, to be frank, it was all a bit embarrassing in the end. Although the cost in dollars isn’t a problem, now or for a future campaign. They fully understand that a first time campaign is unlikely to succeed but not succeeding is not winning the cup. At worst, not winning the Prada Cup final. Not this.
    Terry : Not sure I understand that last point.
    NYYC : Excuse me.
    Terry : Oh, I get it. Who do I need to fire to keep the backers onside.
    NYYC : ( No words)

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    1. I think part of this would be fair if it wasn’t for the capsize. Thy where winning big time and had still 4 races ahead. The capsize is an accident that could happen to anyone really, and it still can. I don’t think that is an excuse, but that explains quite a lot of the final result.

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    2. I hear the sound of cutlery drawers at the NYYC rattling. Defeat is one thing; humiliation quite another.

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  6. Hi Magnus, good article as usual. Luna Rossa is improving but I’m not sure whether they are smart enough to trouble Ineos Team UK. For the USA I agree it is brutal to go home early but that’s competition and you come back stronger, next time when you get the mix right. As per sir Peter Blake’s letter to the Italians some years ago, to win the Cup you have to compete – to win lotto you have to buy a ticket.

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