When Time and Boats Fly

In just two years, America’s Cup teams have taken the foiling ac75 class from nothing to going 50 knots
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During its first ride in New Zealand, American Magic’s new AC75, Patriot, went up in the air before taking a nosedive. The crew was nonplussed.

During its first ride in New Zealand, American Magic’s new AC75, Patriot, went up in the air before taking a nosedive. The crew was nonplussed.

A lot can happen in two years, and so it has with the America’s Cup. In the blink of an eye, the American Magic syndicate went from flying its half-scale test boat, The Mule, for the first time in October 2018, to delivering its brand-new, second-generation AC75 foiling monohull, Patriot, to New Zealand and screaming across Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour in October 2020.

The American syndicate was not alone. Within days of each other, the British and Italian challengers also transported their newest AC75s to New Zealand. Within a week, all three syndicates had soared over Auckland’s waters. Nobody will admit how fast they actually went, but estimates had Patriot flying around at 50 knots.

Flying is an apt word to describe what the AC75s do. The underwater foils that control their direction, attitude and altitude are very similar to the control surfaces of an aircraft, and the flying analogy doesn’t end there. When an airplane points its nose up too high, it can stall and drop precipitously. The same is true of the AC75s.

In New Zealand, the “flying” of the latest batch of AC75s looked pretty routine until Patriot’s bow went up in the air during her first ride and took an unexpected plunge.Unlike their first nosedive aboard The Mule two years before, the American Magic crew took it in stride. “It was nothing that we haven’t seen or done on our other boats,” skipper Terry Hutchinson said afterward, “and our familiarity with Patriot will increase rapidly over the coming days.”

Patriot is an evolution of American Magic’s first AC75, Defiant. But instead of Defiant’s flat-bottom design, Patriot has a deeper skiff-style design and flared decks at the bow. She also sports helm and grinding stations that are lower in the deck than Defiant’s stations, and a helm that’s been moved forward.

American Magic’s helmsman, Dean Barker, explains that the differences between Patriot and Defiant are significant. “It definitely looks different,” Barker said. “There will be no mistaking which one is which.”

Design changes have always been a part of the America’s Cup, going back to the 1851 schooner America and the first defender, Magic, which were distinctly different boats.

America was a beamy, shallow-draft schooner that embarrassed the skinnier, deeper-draft British boats. By 1870, other than being a schooner, Magic had little in common with America. Significantly smaller, she sported a centerboard, low freeboard and a comparatively massive sailplan that was ideal for New York’s lighter winds. She could never have safely crossed the ocean on her own bottom like America did in 1851.

America’s Cup boats have not crossed oceans on their own bottoms since the 12 Metres were shipped across the oceans after World War II. The first generation AC75s were also shipped to New Zealand via cargo ship, including American Magic’s Defiant, which has been sailing in New Zealand since July 2020.

But the last batch of AC75s did not travel to New Zealand by sea. Because the Christmas Cup will begin on Dec. 17 and the Prada Cup challenger series begins in January, the latest AC75s were loaded aboard one of the world’s largest airplanes, a 1987 Ukrainian Antonov AN-124 cargo plane, and one by one flown to the land of Kiwis so they would get there in time.

The 36th America’s Cup will begin in March. It’s not just time that flies. Now, so do the boats. 

This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue.

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