The crew of American Magic had to cut themselves free in a heart-stopping moment after being trapped beneath the capsized yacht during the America's Cup challenger series in Auckland, skipper Terry Hutchinson revealed Monday.
The high-tech yacht, estimated to be worth $80 million, was "flying" on its foils at 47 knots while racing Italian entry Luna Rossa on Sunday when it was dramatically hoisted out of the water and slammed back down by a freak wind gust before rolling on its side.
"We ended up with knives out, cutting ourselves out. Fortunately we were all out within a minute. Underneath the mainsail is unnerving to say the least," Hutchinson said as he relived the ordeal.
The force of the impact tore a hole in the hull and the yacht was taking in water when rescuers rushed to the scene with pumps and flotation devices to prevent it sinking.
The American Magic syndicate are now faced with a race against time to rebuild the yacht and reinstall its intricate electronic equipment before the Prada Cup regatta semi-finals begin in 11 days.
Hutchinson admitted an appearance in the final two rounds of preliminary racing beginning on Friday was unlikely.
"It'll be a big effort to get the boat to go sailing for the semis ... we're going to do whatever it takes," he said.
"It's too early to suggest a time when we'll be back out on the water but we know we have a hard deadline of a week from Friday for the semi-final."
There are only three entries in the regatta to determine who will challenge defending champion Team New Zealand for the America's Cup.
The winner of the preliminary round-robin races will go through to the challenger final to meet the winner of a semi-final series between the other two yachts
INEOS Team UK have made an impeccable start with four wins from four races, ahead of Luna Rossa with two while American Magic are yet to register a point.
The luckless Americans appeared certain of their first win when they held a commanding lead over Luna Rossa before disaster struck with a powerful wind gust as helmsman Dean Barker steered the around the final mark.
Hutchinson said they could have made a different manoeuvre but there was no guarantee that would have given them a safe run to the finish.
"Had we taken the right turn and a lazy gybe we probably would've hooked into it and we wouldn't be having this conversation. But you don't know, and when we make the decision we make the decision and we live and die by those decisions," he said.
"Dean made the correct decision to tack around the left gate, keep us in the pressure and just try to deliver us down to the finish. We got hit by a reasonably big gust."
The winner of the challenger series races Team New Zealand from March 6-21 for the America's Cup.