It was another steamy summer day in the Washington area and Terry Hutchinson was trying hard to follow the advice his boss had offered — relax, unwind and just forget about everything that happened over Fourth of July weekend.
So Hutchinson went back to the West River, where he first learned to sail. Except on this afternoon he stayed on land and out of the way, watching his 7-year-old son, Aidan, win a regatta.
But minutes after he glowed as Aidan showed off his medal to a visitor, Hutchinson sat down on the back porch of his Harwood farmhouse, cracked open a Corona and once again began to consider how one race cost his boat at the Boston stop of the Extreme Sailing Series a day earlier.
Hutchinson, the helmsman for Artemis Racing’s America’s Cup team, had led his four-person boat to wins in nearly every race during the first four days of the regatta only to lose the overall title to Emirates Team New Zealand because of one tactical error in the final race of the competition. He equated it to blowing a huge fourth-quarter lead in a basketball game.
“The thing that’s hardest,” Hutchinson said, “is that it’s one of our America’s Cup competitors.”
The balance between family and racing is a dilemma faced by many sailors. On one hand, even on his few days spent off the water, Hutchinson is focused on preparing for the 2013 America’s Cup, a race that’s in the midst of fundamental change as it tries to re-establish relevance with sports fans.
And yet when asked how often he gets to spend time at his home, which sits on a plot of land between the house he grew up in and where his parents currently live, Hutchinson poses the question to his daughter, Katherine.
“Not very often,” she responded. Hutchinson spent 210 days racing in 2010, including two eight-week trips and an additional 20 days traveling.
“Every time I go it gets harder and harder to leave my family,” said Hutchinson, 42. “But I don’t have too many more [America’s Cups] in me. I desperately want to win.”
Hutchinson started sailing as a young child, racing his brother on the West River and Chesapeake Bay while his parents cruised in their own boat. By the time he entered St. Mary’s High in Annapolis, it was the only sport in which he competed. He then went on to Old Dominion, where he met his wife, Shelley, and was named collegiate sailor of the year in 1989.
From there, though, his sailing career has taken the Hutchinson family around the globe, from Traverse City, Mich., and Long Beach, Calif., to Auckland, New Zealand, and Valencia, Spain. In August, the Hutchinsons will return to Valencia for at least a year as preparations for the America’s Cup begin in full force with the start of the inaugural America’s Cup World Series — a series of match-race regattas — in Portugal.
“It’s a nomadic lifestyle, and there aren’t many guys in the world that can pull it off,” said Hutchinson’s brother, Jamie, an attorney in Washington. “It’s a bit like ‘Where’s Waldo’ at any moment.”
The 2013 America’s Cup will be Hutchinson’s first as a helmsman, or driver, leading the Artemis Racing boat owned by American Paul Cayard. But the 34th edition of this historic race will be different than any other contested before.
After American-based BMW Oracle Racing won the 2010 America’s Cup, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison decided the 2013 race would be held in San Francisco, with smaller courses that are closer to the shore and faster boats that should provide a more exciting racing experience. Last week, city officials estimated 5 million spectators would come to San Francisco for the 50 racing days.
Meanwhile, preliminary competitions like the Extreme Sailing Series, founded in 2007, and the America’s Cup World Series are trying to provide some pre-Cup exposure for sailing.
The hope, according to Hutchinson’s teammate Sean Clarkson, is that all these changes will “address the fundamental issue of we’re professional athletes in a sport where the teams aren’t really making money.”
Hutchinson is at the peak of his earning power in the sport, maintaining a comfortable life on a six-figure salary as one of the world’s top sailors. He’s quick to point out, however, that he’s not like other professional athletes, who “can retire when they’re 40 years old and, if they’ve been smart about it, don’t have to put in too much after their done.”
His passion comes more from “the love of the game” than any monetary benefit, so he openly wonders about the sort of traction sailing can gain with the general public.
“Sailing is one of those sports, not everybody understands it and it’s not an easy thing to understand,” said Hutchinson. “Is it gonna be a mainstream sport? Probably not. But is the X Games a mainstream sporting event? I think America is a tough market, but it needs to draw enough attention so that it has its own little niche.”
Shelley Hutchinson laughs when the topic of her husband’s life as a sailor is brought up. She jokes about how she’s not competitive enough to be a professional sailor and how she rarely attends the races with three kids to care for.
“He’ll go forever,” Shelley Hutchinson said. “He says it gets harder and harder to leave, and it does get harder and harder, but his goal is to win” the America’s Cup.
But she has never held her husband back — he was a sailor when she met him, after all. All she asks is that he “comes back in one piece.”
“I go kicking and screaming, so there has to be something that would make me want to leave them,” Terry Hutchinson said. “Certain things are worth working really, really hard for.”