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Port of Pensacola 1: American Magic

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American Magic
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The Port of Pensacola hosted an open house recently for walking tours of the facility and some of its tenants. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody kicks off a three-part series on some of the port’s tenants, beginning with the “American Magic” yacht team.

The trend at the port appears to be development as a “niche” port -- picking a lineup of specific business sectors and then going after them. Director Amy Miller points to the America’s Cup Sailing Team – “American Magic,” which has spent the last two winters here.  

“Who travel with the team who come here for the entire winter – they live here the entire winter,” Miller said. “They were here from October to June this year. Next year, they’ll be here from October until they leave for the European Sailing season next summer.”

And from time to time, American Magic welcomes some high-profile friends to their operation.

“Jimmy Buffett was here for a day and visited them,” said Miller. “And with them, come occasionally the big sponsors for the sailing team.”

Calling the New York Yacht Club home, the team is preparing to challenge Emirates Team New Zealand in the 36th America's Cup in 2021 in Auckland. At the team’s workshop at the port, security is tight and nothing is left to chance.

“No pictures on the inside; I know, I’m a stick in the mud. But you never know, you never, ever know,” Terry Hutchinson, the executive director and skipper of the American Magic, told visitors on the tour.

The vessel – dubbed “Defiant” -- is an AC75; one of a new class of high-performance, 75-foot foiling monohull boats. A smaller boat – a 38-footer christened “The Mule” is used as a test vessel. The AC75 will have a crew of 11 – five more than The Mule.

The team moved from Rhode Island to Pensacola in 2018, and Hutchinson says they fast-tracked the move into about a four-week period.

“Why Pensacola? You really only have to look out at [Pensacola Bay], then out to the [Gulf of Mexico] to understand why,” said Hutchinson. “Because it’s probably one of the best natural sailing theaters in the country for what we’re doing. What makes it really, really good is the flat water that the bay has, and the unobstructed wind field. And then from there, you go out into the Gulf of Mexico and it’s even that much better.”

And he adds that the hospitality here ain’t bad, either.

“How nice everybody is and how accommodating everybody has been to us,” said Hutchinson. “The Andrews Institute and Portofino have gone above and beyond the call of duty in having us come here and really embracing us in the Pensacola community.”

Tyson Lamond, the boat’s captain, gave the visitors a brief look-around at the facility.

“This is our boat tent, where we’ll end up with the big boat here and the little boat in the back,” said Lamond. “So on any day we can sail either boat if we have an issue with the boat to keep us all learning. And one of the hangars over there is where we work on all of the sails.”

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Another advantage to training in Pensacola, he says, is the aforementioned flat water in the Bay and Gulf that’s similar to Auckland.

“We don’t have everything painted out to how the race is going to be in Auckland, but the main area they’re going to sail is quite flat water, which is good for us here,” Lamond said. “But the other beauty of here is we can go offshore and sail a straight line; so you can kind of have the best of both worlds.”

As for the tactical part of the race, Terry Hutchinson says the best strategy – and virtually the only one in the America’s Cup -- is a fast boat.

“You can have an exceptionally talented sailing team, but if you don’t have a fast boat you’re not going to win the regatta,” Hutchinson said. “One of the drivers of why we can train here was the flat water. For developing a foiling monohull you don’t want to have a lot of ‘sea state’ (turbulence) because that’s going to teach you bad habits. We need to have a foil that can put the boat on edge all the time, and learn how to sail it.”

American Magic’s team – about 140 strong -- and their families, contends Terry Hutchinson, have a major economic impact for the Pensacola area.

“We spend a lot of money in Pensacola; we don’t really, actually make any money; but we spend a lot,” said Hutchinson, laughing.

And Hutchinson made this prediction:

“In about 16 months’ time we’ll come back and we’ll have a big ol’ party at the end of Palafox Street with the America’s Cup. And from there we’ll figure out how to incorporate the city of Pensacola and Pensacola Bay into some part of our defense in the 37th America’s Cup [in 2025].”

The New York Yacht Club held the America’s Cup Trophy for more than a century, before the Americans led by Dennis Conner lost it to an Australian boat in 1983. Four years later, Conner’s team recaptured it. 

“To have the skipper lose and the skipper win was pretty remarkable,” said Hutchinson. “It’s the oldest trophy in international sports history. So that in itself goes well beyond one person.”