America's Cup 2021: American Magic back Kiwi helmsman Dean Barker after spectacular crash

Kiwi helmsman Dean Barker has received a vote of confidence from his NYYC American Magic boss, despite steering their AC75 foiling monohull into a horrific crash, while racing on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf.

The New Zealand sailing great was at the wheel, when Patriot went airborne during America's Cup challenger racing on Sunday, smashing back into the water and tipping over.

All crew were quickly accounted for, but the yacht's hull suffered a huge hole that threatened to send it to the bottom of the channel off East Coast Bays.

American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson is philosophical about the cause of the accident, suggesting Mother Nature was as much to blame as human error, but all eyes have naturally fallen on Barker, who was already under pressure, after three consecutive Prada Cup losses.

"We win as a team and we lose as a team," insists Hutchinson. "Dean is a critical part of that.

"I've encouraged him, since we started this programme, 'be Dean Barker, don't be anything different'. We want the person that has all the intensity that he has, but also has that certain level of demeanour about him, which makes him the perfect person to sail this boat.

"He's got a bit of ice water in his veins, which is what the boat requires, and when we go out sailing the next time, I'll always encourage him, 'don't take your foot off the pedal', because inevitably, that's what will bite us.

"We have the utmost confidence in his abilities and there's no-one else we'd rather have at the wheel."  

Patriot lies prone on the Hauraki Gulf
Patriot lies prone on the Hauraki Gulf. Photo credit: Photosport

Barker and Hutchinson have history together. They were helmsman and tactician - their current roles - for Emirates Team NZ, when they fell short of lifting the America's Cup from Alinghi in 2007.

Both have been in these circumstances before. Barker, 47, was at the helm for Team NZ, when they took on water and almost sank off Auckland in 2003, and again at San Francisco 2013, when their foiling catamaran teetered dangerously close to disaster against Oracle Team USA.

At that same regatta, Hutchinson, 52, was skipper of Swedish challenge Artemis Racing, which crashed and sank, resulting in the death of British sailor Andrew 'Bart' Simpson. 

With all the technology developments in America's Cup racing over recent years, yachts are continually pushed to the limits - and sometimes over - and calamity is never far away.

Hutchinson concedes his team have undergone considerable soul-searching since this latest incident. What could they have done differently in the prevailing squally conditions?

"Forty seconds before we tacked, we had 12.5 knots of wind," he explains. "When we tacked to bear away, it was blowing 23 knots of wind.

"When you look at the wind graph, the time from 18 knots to 23 knots is about three seconds. There was a lot of turbulent wind conditions.

"You get the boat into a spot where you have to race the boat hard. The boat is very unforgiving and you have to race it, and when you throttle back, you have as much risk when you pull your foot off the pedal as when you have it on.

"I have to say there's a little bit of Mother Nature biting us and as we debrief this internally, we'll get better from this situation and work to not make the same mistake twice."

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