BRISTOL — Inside a small warehouse tucked away in a residential neighborhood, some of the greatest sailing minds are working to design a boat fast enough to capture one of the most famous trophies in all of sports.
New York Yacht Club American Magic, a challenger for the 36th America’s Cup, has its headquarters on a side street in this town widely known for celebrating America — Bristol’s Fourth of July Parade is the oldest in the nation. While the competition in Auckland, New Zealand, is still 2½ years away, there is much work to be done as New York Yacht Club looks to retain sailing’s holy grail that was lost off the coast of Newport 35 years ago.
The team currently is comprised of about 110 people, including 32 boat designers, 32 boat builders, 18 sailors, shore team members and operations employees. A number of those team members have uprooted their lives and families to move to Bristol and the surrounding area from places around the world. Many, though, are local residents, said Portsmouth’s Rob Ouellette, the chief operations officer for American Magic.
“What’s great about being in Rhode Island is we have competent talent and everything you need to build the best boat in the world right here,” he said. “It’s a big commitment on the part of everyone who signs up with us. It takes a lot of effort from Day 1.”
That day was just about a year ago, when New York Yacht Club — which maintains a clubhouse at Harbour Court in Newport — announced it would field a team in the America’s Cup for the first time since 2003. In March, the team officially became American Magic, a nod to the first two winners of the America’s Cup.
Providing the financial backing for the team is a trio of men known for racing, though not always on the water. Businessmen Hap Fauth and Doug DeVos are sailing world champions with their respective teams, Belle Mente Racing and Quantum Racing.
Together, they created the Bella Mente Quantum Racing Association in an attempt to wrest the Auld Mug from Team Emirates New Zealand, which cruised to victory over Oracle Team USA off Bermuda in 2017.
“I think with Hap and Doug, they’ve both been leading successful sailing teams for a long time. This is a logical next step for them,” Ouellette said. “They’re embedded in the sport, and the America’s Cup is the end all, be all. [The team] starts with a good backbone and good leadership in the sport, and that’s where Doug and Hap have been fantastic.”
The third financier is Roger Penske. If that name sounds familiar, it should. While not known in the sailing community, the 81-year-old has fielded 17 Indianapolis 500 winners with his Team Penske, which also operates a NASCAR team.
Penske is a member at New York Yacht Club and “knows winning,” Ouellette said. “He knows how to prioritize and what you need to win. A lot of the technology we’re using to design these boats is similar to what Rogers does with NASCAR and IndyCar. He’s just a competitor and he’s totally into it.”
Members of the design team took a trip to Team Penske’s headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina, to catch a glimpse of how things are done. Moving forward technologically always has been a good recipe for winning the America’s Cup — from the winged keel below Australia II in 1983 to the Kiwis’ cycle-style grinders last year off Bermuda — and American Magic is looking to build a better boat while staying within the parameters set forth by the defending champions.
The teams will be ditching the catamarans admired by Oracle Team USA head Larry Ellison and used in the past two America’s Cup series, and opt for 75-foot foiling monohulls.
A few months back, American Magic announced its roster of sailors, with Cup veteran Terry Hutchinson serving as skipper. Among them is former New Zealand skipper Dean Barker, and together they have 31 Cup campaigns of experience and two Olympic medals.
American Magic is in the design stage currently, but according to the protocol of the 36th America’s Cup, teams can launch their boats on March 31, 2019. Ouellette said the American Magic boat will make its debut on local waters, and the team will train here throughout the next summer.
“It’ll be hard to miss,” Ouellette said. “It’ll be pretty cool seeing that thing rip around Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound.”
Right now, American Magic is the lone U.S. entry into the competition, joining Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa Challenge of Italy and Ineos Team UK of England. Though the early deadline to field a team has passed, the late deadline, which comes with a $1 million penalty, is Dec. 31.
Once the boats get in the water in March, they’ll be tested and tweaked until the fall, when the America’s Cup World Series begins. Sail Newport Executive Director Brad Read told The Daily News last month that Newport is trying to land one of those preliminary events.
“Obviously we’re fully supportive of having a World Series event here,” Ouellette said. “We’d love nothing more.”
Then from there, it’s trying to bring the Auld Mug back to its very first home.