Two America’s Cups, the last with Stars & Stripes in Auckland, 12 U.S. one design titles, two world titles (J 24 and IMS) and now a Star campaign for Athens 2004, archetypal professional sailor Terry Hutchinson continues to cover a lot of ground.
SH: It must have been a pretty tough few months in Auckland. From off the water it looked like you and the Poms were struggling with the two slowest ACC boats out there?
TH: It was tough! Being slow compounds every mistake ten fold, and when we were right you did not make the gains you hoped for. In reality if we sailed the perfect race against the top four teams we had the ability to win… but I am not sure that we would.
With a lack of speed also came a lack of confidence. At the end of the program a lot of criticism came down on the sailors and Ken [Read] for not getting it done. Some of it was warranted but some of it was not, the bottom line is a fast boat still makes you look smart!
TH: Our program had two major setbacks, a rig breaking and the boat sinking. We lost a lot of development time early on when we broke 66’s first mast. This was a 5-week setback but it pushed the entire schedule back once 77 arrived.
Secondly, the boat sinking cost us valuable racing time in New Zealand. We had a pretty extensive race schedule planned for the month and a half prior to the start of the LVC and basically we did nothing but train by ourselves. Not exactly what you want given the competition. The disappointing part about all of this is that these are just excuses… all set up by lack of time to do it properly.
We did have some fundamental mis-hits with our appendages. Early on we were lower and slower then just everybody. We made some pretty aggressive changes to the boat between RR1 and RR2 that made 66 better. Once 77 was on line we were able to leap frog all the improvements to 66 in time for the quarterfinal and the repechage against OneWorld. Unfortunately against OneWorld we had one opportunity to win a race and I dropped the ball tactically on the second run.
I would look at a lot of problems as time more than knowledge or experience. The plan laid out in the beginning was solid assuming no hick-ups. I would say that we had a little more then our fair share of hick-ups!
SH: What was your primary role?
TH: Tactician on the race boat and during our testing in Long Beach I drove 66.
SH: It is very exciting that the Cup has come to Europe… but with Alinghi and Oracle the first two to confirm for 07, the entry cost has been driven up for sure. There is now clearly nowhere to go with a low-ball challenge. How do you respond to suggestions that there could actually be a very small field next time around?
TH: I believe that it is a worry. But, this has always been an expensive event. It is the nature of the beast. I do believe that you can be competitive given the right organization. Money helps, but ultimately maximizing every dollar that is spent to the benefit of boat speed will help win the event. I don’t believe that we failed at Stars & Stripes because of a lack of money. But I am also not in the position to say as I was not involved with the day to day finances. I do know that when we needed something for the boats we went out and purchased whatever was necessary.
As far as size, I am hoping that the event is bigger. Whoever is awarded the event by Alinghi will have a huge task ahead to make it as successful as it was in New Zealand.
SH: Do you believe that any of the other challengers were particularly close to Alinghi or did they have horsepower in hand?
TH: I believe the challengers were close, but ultimately the experience and chemistry of the Alinghi team won. There is no doubt that to de-throne Alinghi will take time, money, and the right combination of people. Alinghi as a team has an incredible amount of experience in these boats. To get more time in the boats is impossible, so as a program one would need to come up with a solid all around design to match the modes of Alinghi. Then the sailing team has to be able to step up and sail the regatta of their lives. Oracle had a pretty solid program, great sailors, good boats, and the right amount of funding. Unfortunately those great sailors struggled to pull as a team; to beat a tight knit group like Alinghi will take a 100 per cent team effort.
SH: And where do you think that Team NZ 2003 would have finished in the LV Cup?
TH: I think Team NZ would have sorted out their problems and gotten through to the final four. Unfortunately for them the entire thing fell to pieces and after they lost race 2 the downward spiral was in full effect. That is a tough spiral to stop! I was impressed with their tool and the amount of thought that went into the boat. But again, to beat Alinghi takes the complete package and unfortunately they fell short on the sailing side.
SH: How about NZL-82 with Coutts and Co. driving?
TH: I think that they win. Again, it is the complete package and right now Coutts and Co. offer that package.
SH: Do you think Oracle will have any other US-based competition for the challenger slot?
TH: Tough call! I have not heard of any other teams forming in the U.S. I would hope that DC does it again, but I know he believes to win will take an incredible amount of financial commitment that may not be obtainable by corporate America. I also keep beating on Paul to let me know if he has anything going and he continues to tell me that he does not. I will keep my fingers crossed as it would be nice to sail for the U.S.
SH: Do you have any thoughts how you’d like to see Alinghi modify the ACC rule next time – given the Hula is obviously going to be banned?
TH: My personal feeling is that the Cup is in pretty good hands. Everybody involved with Alinghi knows what needs to change to make the event better. Keeping the current boats and closing up some loop holes is already a step in the right direction. However Alinghi is in a tough spot as they have two agendas: defending and having an event that surpasses the event in New Zealand. Both of those tasks will not be easy!
SH: Do you believe that the Coutts/Alinghi package can be beaten in the next Cup cycle - Paul [Cayard] seems to think they may be too far ahead? And what would it take – given a team like Oracle gave Bruce Farr his best shot?
TH: Did Oracle give Farr its best shot? I don’t know if they did, I would ask Larry that question. I believe anybody can be beaten on any given day. But, it takes the complete package to beat those guys. Nobody to date has shown up with the complete package. In some way, shape or form in the last three America’s Cup or LVC finals the teams to face Russell and company have had a chink in the armour. Alinghi showed that it will take a new level of organization and skill to take the Cup away.
SH: Moving back to Terry Hutchinson, where do you expect to be applying yourself over the next three years?
TH: Right now I am focusing on the next year. I have been racing my Star boat this past winter and will spend the fall and winter months focusing on the Olympic trials in March of 04 and then the summer Olympics. I really have not looked beyond 04 as I believe that teams will not start forming until the next Cup venue is announced.
The America’s Cup is an incredible experience, and after the Star I hope to get involved with another team as they develop. If that does not happen then I will continue professional sailing and racing my Star boat!
SH: Were you surprised at the way that the top end of the Star fleet seems to have jumped ahead while you were racing America’s Cup, with technical development and power-sailing techniques?
TH: No, I think that it was only a matter of time. When Freddy [Loof] won the worlds in 2001 it showed a lot of people that you did not have to spend hours upon hours of sailing the Star to be successful. That is the good news… the bad news is through fitness these guys have taken it to a new level. But, that is not so bad either as it is one more reason to go to the gym!
SH: Do you think the swing to more physical sailing will ever be reversed or is this now just a grown-up Laser class?
TH: I do not know if it can or should be reversed. The class has changed the weight limit - which I favoured as it allowed me to continue sailing with Andrew Scott. Instead of being 80 pounds light we now are closer to maximum weight and hopefully we can make up for the last 10 pounds in hiking harder. I think it’s great… today’s type of sailing is promoting health and through all of this you still have guys like Mark [Reynolds] and Vince [Brun] who are legends in the class beating up on guys that can hike for ever.
SH: And how does an Olympic team from, say the USA, compete with the more heavily, centrally funded European teams?
TH: That is going to be a problem in the future. Currently, the saving grace for the U.S. Star fleet is that it is soooo competitive. Our racing is strong which will ultimately make our Olympic representative strong. Hopefully this will continue with is a good group of young sailors currently joining the class.
SH: Have you been surprised at how the once all-powerful USA sailing teams have been left behind in the Olympic funding race?
TH: No, I am not surprised, but the bottom line is Olympic sailing is not seen by corporate America as a viable place to go for marketing products. Right now the U.S. Olympic sailing athlete is forced to balance family, work, fundraising, and then sailing. We just need more hours each day!
SH: Do you have any interest in the next Volvo Race, or are you staying with your tactician work?
TH: I definitely have interest. Having spent a summer getting to know Glenn [Bourke – a guest helm with Stars & Stripes] I know that he will run a first rate event. The change of boat should add a lot of excitement as well as the racing around the buoys at stopovers. All are positive steps in what is already a great race. With that said it has to be the right situation to move away from the incredible one-design racing going on in the VO60s.
SH: And the America’s Cup, how would you like to be re-cast next time?
TH: Without question I want to be involved with the next America’s Cup. Ultimately, I would like to steer, but I think that with any situation you need to go into it with whatever it takes for the team to succeed. The last experience with Stars & Stripes was outstanding. DC delivered on everything he said and he gave me the opportunity to drive 66 in testing and do tactics while racing. It was the best of both worlds to get experience in the different parts of the boat.
SH: What about some of the shorthanded events? Jonathan McKee seems set to become ‘France’s’ latest sailing hero!
TH: Jonathan is a great sailor and what he is currently accomplishing is awesome. I just don’t enjoy being by myself that much to go single-handed sailing. Multihulls on the other hand look and sound like a blast!
SH: ‘Offshore’ one designs: As a sailor, can you see sufficient wealthy private owners staying amused with one designs for ever, or is pressure growing for a new and modern handicap system?
TH: It is tough to see the one-designs failing! Currently there are 37 boats entered for the Farr 40 World Championship. The class is hoping to top the 40-boat mark which will make it the largest Farr 40 event ever. Having spent the past couple of weeks in Italy racing I can’t imagine the racing being any better. You finish and you know how you did… no waiting for corrected time results. It is a nice feature! Other one-designs are popping up as well, with the Transpac 52 class now allowing a good custom boat within a box rule. While it is a custom boat, to which the owner can add his personal touch, the boat still has to fit the box rule to level race in class.
SH: And how does the ‘work’ – and the remuneration - stack up these days for professional sailors in the one design fleets compared to the previous era?
TH: I am incredibly thankful everyday for the Farr 40 class! The class has managed the amount of pros and controlled cost, but also have supplied jobs for a lot of people. If we have 40 boats at the Farr 40 worlds that is 160 professionals working within the industry. This is just one event. On any given weekend there could be as many as 60 Farr 40s racing around the world. This class alone has created an industry and this does not even include the Swan 45, Mumm 30, 1D 35 classes, all of which support the professional sailor.
The professional sailor has been criticized recently for just working for a pay check. I believe it’s too bad that a few people have this perception. The ‘professional sailor’ is a teacher, coach, organizer, and a jack of all trades to help people who enjoy sailing to get better. But whether it is as good as the IOR era I do not know - I was still in college! But I know that there is a lot of work right now and I think that is because the sport has been given back to the owners and they enjoy driving their boats!
SH: What would Terry Hutchinson like to see done (if anything) to revive interest in international grand prix racing?
TH: It was a shame to see the 1D 48 class fail. That had a lot going for it with the boats and the concept, but again I think what we are seeing is a trend of the owners wanting to get more bang for their buck, which means they would like to steer. It is tough to argue! I turn to my Star or the Swedish Match tour when I want to go grand prix racing for me.
SH: But with the disappearance of the grand prix fleets there is also far less opportunity for younger designers?
TH: This is tough as the opportunities for designers seem to be less and less. It would be awesome to have a rule that would allow designers to exercise their abilities to design the fast boats that people would enjoy racing. In the early and mid 90’s the IMS created some great racing, but the rule just got out of control.
SH: With better Olympic funding in many countries, can you see a steady stream of professional sailors making the sideways step from racing to coaching – Coutts was there at Sydney 2000 and Rod Davis has gone straight from Auckland to support the Danish Olympic team?
TH: It certainly shows some maturing of our sport that these newer opportunities are appearing. No complaints from this bunny for sure!
Terry was talking with Andrew Hurst. Reprinted by permission from Seahorse Magazine.
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