By Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz
American Magic's Terry Hutchinson says they have made a huge leap of faith in exporting their AC75 to Auckland - without any process in place that will get their team through New Zealand's closed borders.
Hutchinson, who was part of Emirates Team New Zealand for seven years, is now Executive Director of the New York Yacht Club's challenger for the 2021 America's Cup.
Interviewed on SailingIllustrated.com by America's Cup veteran turned commentator Tom Ehman, Hutchinson said that already nine of the team who hold NZ passports, including skipper Dean Barker, are either in quarantine in New Zealand or planning to leave next month.
Hutchinson is hoping to be able to start sending non-Kiwi members of American Magic's 138-strong team to New Zealand in the near future, but respects the current status of the New Zealand Government.
"From the communications we have had with the NZ Immigration Minister, currently exemptions are made only for health officials and those who can help manage and maintain the safety of the NZ community. But outside that - standby.
"They are standing firm right now as to the fact that the borders are closed. The decision we have made is risky. But it is a bit of a waiting game - which was always going to have to take place for us.
"I completely understand and respect the process that is taking place in New Zealand. Prime Minister Ardern has done a great job of making difficult decisions. Beyond those who have NZ Residency, our first deployment will be a team of 55 people and their family members, once we get the green light."
Hutchinson promises that, if or when given that green light, his team will respect all the country's rules and guidelines.
"You're not going to find a more motivated group to adhere to the guidelines that have been set for us," he said.
"New Zealand has done a great job, in so many ways they have led the world in demonstrating how to fight and virtually eliminate Covid-19. From an American Magic perspective, we want to help maintain the discipline the Kiwis shown and follow the rules that we need to follow to gain access into the country.
"It doesn't seem fair that the NZ Government has to cover the cost of an American Magic 14-day quarantine or lockdown. My expectation is that we are going to have to take that [cost] on, and we will happily do so."
Fortuitously for American Magic, the cancellation call for the two America's Cup World Series events in Italy and UK came through in time for their AC75 Defiant to cancel their passage to Europe. Team New Zealand were not so fortunate, having shipped their AC75 boat, almost two months earlier on what turned out to be a fool's errand to Europe.
That muddle cost the Kiwis four months sailing time in Auckland, but it has set the scene for the first race between a challenger and the defender in the 36th America's Cup - as to whose AC75 will be the first to arrive in Auckland.
Both Hutchinson and Team NZ CEO Grant Dalton say it will be very close, with both teams' boats expected to arrive in three weeks.
"Right now our landing time is from June 7-12, so I'd say there's a chance we will beat the Kiwis," Hutchinson told Sailing Illustrated.
Hutchinson was more serious on the pivotal decision to ship the AC75 along with their base and chase boats to Auckland. "These are definitely nervous times. I would go as far as to say that the success or failure of our program lies purely in the next eight or nine weeks."
Following the ACWS cancellation, the New York Yacht Club team could have unpacked Defiant and continued their sailing program out of Pensacola. But against the backdrop of Covid-19, the team decided to self-maroon in Florida and didn't sail.
"I believe the right thing was to prioritise the health and safety of the entire team", Hutchinson said, "but we also wanted to prioritise the health and safety of the Pensacola community.
"We chose smart and careful over pure ambition, and we're trusting that over time it will all balance itself out," he added.
"We took the opportunity [to go straight to Auckland] even though it is 32-33 days on a ship.
"It is the first time in this program that we have lost control of our assets. That, by nature, makes me feel very uneasy because, at that point, we are relying on others to dictate our future."
And, for now at least, they can't keep an eye on Team New Zealand's activities either.
"Our reconnaissance team hasn't been allowed out on the water in Auckland under the current alert level 3, as there's no boating allowed," he explains.
"When the alert level is down to level 2 recreational boats will be allowed on the water, and we'll be able to keep an eye on Team NZ."