American Magic’s Art of Flight
A group of white pelicans glide gracefully through the air above calm waters at Pensacola Bay. They’ve found their winter sanctuary here among pristine stretches of white sand in northwestern Florida, blissfully unaware of the albatross-shaped object flying towards them.
The dark blue object is the future of sailing. 6,5 metric tons of curved precision flying across the bay at 40 knots, foils locked in position on the sides of the 75-foot aerodynamic carbon hull. An 11-man-strong, helmet-wearing crew execute razor sharp maneuvers in the cockpit, enabling the boat to make a 90-degree turn and charge towards its winter base at the Port of Pensacola.
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Defiant has been called a three-dimensional work of modern art. It’s a foiling AC75 monohull that required more than 76,000 man-hours of high-stakes development and work before it was launched on September 14th, 2019. And it’s American Magic’s work of art, shaped to perfection by an eclectic team of world-class sailors, experienced technicians and brilliant engineers with the sole purpose of winning the 36th America’s Cup and bringing the “Auld Mug” — the oldest trophy in international sports — back home to the United States.
The quest for America’s Cup
With American Magic, New York Yacht Club is challenging the current America’s Cup Defender, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. If successful, it will not only be a great victory, but also a nod to the club’s fearless sailors who first won the America’s Cup in 1851 and successfully defended it 24 times over a period of 126 years.
It’s a quest that will be fueled by teamwork and trust. As sailor Nick Dana says: “Daily problem solving with an extremely talented group is the backbone of American Magic. The shared experience of taking on challenges together is what builds trust and what determines the success of the team.”
The American Magic crew knows that trust is not given lightly, that it needs to be built through rigor, resilience and experience, that it is earned through time. They also know that when trust is tested beyond doubt, they will truly be able to master the Defiant and have a shot at the trophy. They know that every role is important, that every small task counts, that everyone must be willing and able to put in the work. A crew like this one isn’t months in the making, it’s years.
Trust is Earned
As Defiant picks up speed after its spectacular maneuver, Dean Barker steers her towards port a couple of miles west. He was the first sailor Skipper Hutchinson brought aboard the team. They first sailed together many years ago and have since then developed a trust and efficiency that you can only get with time, winning the Louis Vutton Cup together in 2007 along the way. He gives an order to the grinders who instantly increase the pace of their arms’ rolling movement, providing human power to the mechanical and hydraulic systems on board.
28-year-old Californian Cooper Dressler keeps a focused face as he grinds through the last minutes of today’s on-water session. A grinder’s job is basically to turn handles as hard as they can at 80–95% of maximal heart rate for as many hours as needed. In addition, they also need to manage a lot of on-board systems while continuing to turn the handles, which requires a lot of stamina. Grinders burn anything from 4,000–6,000 calories a day.
During this strenuous task, grinding like a man possessed, Cooper looks satisfied. He knows he is lucky to be working as hard as this on board the Defiant. Through will and dedication, he worked himself from a “ditch digger” on a shore crew to a star sailor. For years he dug trenches, moved crates, lay wiring, basically did all the chores no one else wanted to do. And it payed off. Key people saw that he was willing to put in the work and he gained their trust. The rest is sailing history in the making.
In order to earn trust, the team needs to know that you are bringing your best effort every day to reach the common goal.
Magic with data
Defiant docks in the early afternoon and as the sailors walk ashore, computer engineer Elvira Llabres carries small electronic devices on board, ready to start harvesting data from today’s sailing session.
She collects 1,5 terabytes of data and explains that this is the amount collected on an average day. The data is valuable to several team members, including Robyn Lesh, who’s in charge of Defiant’s weight & center of gravity. One of Robyn’s tasks is to create new versions of parts that need adjustment. 3D printing has become an important part of the process. “A few years ago it was experimental, now it’s a natural part of production,” she says
Data shows where improvements can be made in places invisible to the human eye and mind. Still, while data can help the team win seconds on race day, the real X factor lies within the team itself. “We are 140 people who give everything we can to win the America’s Cup in 2021,” says Robyn. “This requires a high level of trust. Trust between teammates. Trust between the sailors, the design team, the build team, and our sponsors.”
As we are putting all our energy into the team, we need to believe that the team and our co-workers and everyone we work with will take care of us when we need it.
Never stop pushing
Rescue diver Kobi Graham and paramedic Mark Austin have been preparing for a safety drill since Defiant docked. Now, after giving final instructions, they follow closely from a support boat as a single file of crew members jump from the pier and continue to dive underneath a tarp that simulates a sail. While trying to navigate to the other side, the sailors must access their oxygen and practice breathing through a mouthpiece.
For Kobi and Mark it’s all about safety, and trust is key. Kobi comes from a background of life guarding and water rescue during big wave tow-in surfing, and knows that when push comes to shove, you better be ready. Preparing the team for the worst and knowing that they will be safe even in times of disaster, is how he earns their trust. This also helps the sailors trust each other as they’ve practiced for the worst together.
“It’s important that every sailor knows what to do if anything goes wrong. It’s my job to make sure everyone is confident and knows their role if something bad happens. We do a lot of training. I teach them to breathe, to use their oxygen mask, and so on. These guys expect me to save their lives if something happens out on the water. They put all their trust in me,” says Kobi.
Early birds fly together
As the sun sets on the horizon, painting the Gulf of Mexico in pink, sailor Nick Dana gets ready to head home. He’s been at work since early morning, hitting the gym at 6.15 a.m. while it was still dark, preparing body and mind for hours of grinding. Tomorrow he’ll repeat it all. Gym, then morning meeting at 7.30, then getting Defiant ready for a new on-water session. There are no days off when you’re perfecting the art of flight.