In September 2019, American Magic’s DEFIANT became the first AC75 to both sail and foil on the waters of Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Since then, the first of two AC75’s to be built for the U.S. America’s Cup Challenger has been in a “shakedown” phase, where the complex and cutting-edge systems have been tested and refined.
Also part of this groundbreaking period has been the shakedown of the human element; the training of some of the world’s first AC75 sailors. American Magic’s team of grinders, trimmers, and other specialists have been recruited from the best of Olympic, foiling, and previous Cup classes, but sailing onboard DEFIANT is unlike anything else.
“Liftoff on the AC75 is surprising compared to a Moth, SuperFoiler, GC32, or the other mainstream foiling boats out there now,” said trimmer/grinder Dan Morris (Newport, R.I.). “Liftoff on this boat feels like an airplane. When [helmsman] Dean Barker, [main trimmer] Paul Goodison, [flight controller] Andrew Campbell and the grinders are in sync, the boat takes off like an airplane on a tarmac. There’s acceleration, the bow comes up, and the boat lifts free. In most other foiling boats the takeoff is a labored effort, with the boat ‘working hard’ to take off. The AC75 feels easy and smooth."
The level of teamwork required to get the boat up on its foils, sailing at full pace, and running through maneuvers is formidable. Each of the 11 crew onboard continually work to execute their tasks in sync.
“The sailors in the two sides of the cockpit are in some ways in their own little worlds,” said trimmer/grinder Trevor Burd (Marblehead, Mass.). “With the deck-sealed main you can’t verbally communicate across the boat. This is where the trust factor comes in. Going into into a maneuver without your side of the boat having confidence that the guys on the other side of the boat are ready for it would create problems. The good news is that you know that the sailors over there are the best in the world, and you know they’ll be ready.”
The athletes powering DEFIANT’s hydraulic systems are focused on much more besides generating the “oil pressure” that is crucial for trimming and turning the boat. A deep knowledge of tactics, situations, and the boat’s systems is a necessary tool for everyone onboard.
“You cant just be an athlete, or just a power source, on an AC75,” said Burd. “You have to know and be ready for the maneuver before it happens, and be able to anticipate. Each maneuver or adjustment has steps, requires understanding of what the boat needs and you need to be prepared for what is going to happen. If you don’t have those factors you get behind in your tasks, and then the maneuver doesn’t happen, stuff breaks, or both. You gotta be ‘heads up.’”
For the dozens of members of American Magic’s Bristol, Rhode Island-based production team, who poured tens of thousands of hours into the team’s first AC75 build project, seeing DEFIANT perform as expected is a source of satisfaction.
“It’s a proud moment to see our hard work doing exactly what it is designed to do,” said Brandon Linton (Newport, R.I.), the team’s Boat Construction Manager. “Usually there is a feeling of finality when a yacht completes all structural load testing and finally sails for the first time, but with an America’s Cup yacht it is just the beginning of a new phase of optimization and modification. The yacht build is never completely finished until the last race.”
With the 2020 America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) circuit curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has been focused on design work, the production of the 2nd AC75, and the logistical move to Auckland ahead of ACWS Auckland, the Prada Cup, and the America's Cup. It’s never far from the thoughts of team members that by this stage in the year, they expected to be fresh off their first regatta in Cagliari, Italy.
“We really can’t wait to go racing,” said Morris. “On a scale of 1-10, our team is at 11, itching to be on the water. We were prepped and ready [to race] this spring, with everything geared towards performing in Cagliari. There were just waves of anticipation. You think it’s coming, and you try to peak physically and mentally for a regatta like that. To have that first event delayed, the anticipation just builds and builds inside our team.”