John “Hap” Fauth is a familiar face who casually pedals around Port Royal, hits the links at the Hole-in-the-Wall Golf Club, and dines at the Naples Yacht Club. Despite his relaxed demeanor, he’s a razor-sharp powerhouse in the international yacht-racing community.
As CEO of the United States’ 2021 America’s Cup challenger syndicate, American Magic, Fauth has been focused the past few years on bringing the Cup back to the U.S. this year, while upping the ante on sailing yacht innovation and design.
With four years between each America’s Cup (AC) challenge, Fauth had been absorbed with fundraising for the multimillion-dollar endeavor, including the specifics of the team’s foiling monohull design called the AC75 and the cliffhanging competition at multiple tiers that boils down to mere seconds. “You can race the same course on the same day and the wind and currents will be different,” he says. “We win races by five seconds—by half a boat length. It’s competitive as hell.”
It’s called the “challenger syndicate” because “there’s always been a group of gentlemen who have put a team together to race in the AC, all the way back [to when] J.P. Morgan was the helmsman,” Fauth explains of the competition for the oldest trophy in international sport, dating to 1851. “As it’s gone along, it’s become a younger man’s game.” The equipment for the younger crew manning the fast, highly responsive AC75: Kevlar suits and custom life vests, helmets, and bulletproof goggles for taking on 50-knot speeds.
Fauth, Doug DeVos (the former president of Amway), and Roger Penske (a car racing icon who owns Penske Corporation) are the principal backers of the $160 million syndicate. Last March, Fauth, DeVos, and Terry Hutchinson, American Magic’s skipper and executive director, held a fundraiser at Naples Yacht Club. Eighty members got to hear first-hand about the behind-the-scenes excitement of this international endeavor.
Fauth, 75, grew up on the waters of New York’s Great South Bay between Long Island and Fire Island. He began racing at the age of 7, when his father dropped his golf game to spearhead a youth racing team and committee at Babylon Yacht Club in West Islip, New York. Fauth has extensive experience in high-level races with his own custom racing sailing yachts, including his Bella Mente Maxi 72, which took first place in the New York Yacht Club 2020 Queen’s Cup in September. He also owns Whisper, a 116-foot luxury mega yacht available for private and corporate charters.
For Fauth, sailing “has always been about interpreting the majestic nature of water. The dynamics of sailing is a three-dimensional chess game. It’s not only you and the wind; it’s you, your crew, your boats, and the tide—what’s happening on the water. It’s a geographic equation. You’re having to think and perform at three different levels, at least.”
He and his wife of 44 years, Geren, bought a Port Royal home on Naples Bay in 2005 and joined Naples Yacht Club in 2007. “I belong to several golf courses,” Fauth notes. “I bike and fish. That’s my MO when I’m in Naples.” The couple also has a summer home in Rhode Island and property in Colorado. In addition, they spend a lot of time in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where his investment company, The Churchill Companies, is headquartered.
Behind their Galleon Drive home is a 30-foot Intrepid powerboat, which the family uses for sunset cruises, jaunts to Boca Grande and Key West, and fishing trips in search of tarpon, snook, redfish, and bonefish. “I’m a fly fisherman,” Fauth says. “I am not into harvesting meat; I catch and release.”
The Fauths also use the Intrepid for overnight and day trips each winter with the informally organized Port Royal Yacht Squadron, a group of 12 neighborhood friends who are yacht club members. They strike out to dine on Marco Island or play a round of golf at the historic Gasparilla Inn. “Four or five boats go out to a destination and sometimes members double up,” he says.
Their guesthouse is frequently buzzing with weeks-long visits from their three grown children and six grandchildren, who enjoy golfing, fishing, and exploring the Port Royal Beach Club at their leisure. One of their daughters is an intense golfer, while son Forrest “fishes every day he’s here,” Fauth reports.
Sailing at the Highest Level
The current America’s Cup holder, called “the Defender,” is Emirates Team New Zealand from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Challengers in the America’s Cup World Series who have made it to this level of battle need to win 11 races in the Prada Cup Challenger finals. The winner will go head-to-head with the Defender in the thirty-sixth America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand, March 6-21.
During a Prada Cup race in mid-January, Patriot was in the lead when it suddenly capsized in strong gusts. The crew was okay and the vessel was repaired and returned to the racecourse, but it didn’t make the cut. “The exhilarating, unforgiving and, sometimes, utterly heartbreaking nature of sailing at the highest level” was “on full display,” the American Magic team stated after the loss.
Syndicates represent clubs, not boat owners or captains. American Magic represented the New York Yacht Club, where Fauth is a long-time member and trustee. The venerable yacht club “held the Cup for 132 years,” says Fauth. “It’s part of the club’s DNA.” The other competitors were Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team and the British Ineos Team UK. (Luna Rossa is the “Challenger of Record” because it launched the first challenge to New Zealand following its 2017 victory, and had a hand in writing the series’ rules.)
Getting to New Zealand
American Magic worked closely with dignitaries and through official channels after New Zealand closed its borders in the wake of COVID-19. It was touch-and-go until mid-June, when American Magic personnel received border exemptions and quarantined before getting under sail.
The American Magic syndicate created two foiling monohull racing yachts, Defiant and Patriot, both built in Bristol, Rhode Island, to meet this year’s race regulations. Defiant became the first AC75 to sail and foil in September 2019. It logged thousands of training miles to provide valuable data for the design of Patriot, which was transported by air to Auckland in late August. The plan was for Patriot to undertake the final America’s Cup challenge against New Zealand, if all went well.
The American Magic syndicate totaled 145 paid team members, Fauth says, including 40 designers, 40 boatbuilders, and up to 25 sailors, with backups for onboard crewmembers, coaching staff, and ground crew. Getting to Auckland was a massive logistical operation. Thirty-seven shipping containers served as a mini village to cover a variety of purposes: a press room, kitchen to feed 100 people three meals a day, and an electronic simulator for the sailors to practice. Some housed workshops for sail making, metal machining, and carbon-fiber repairs.
“When you’re going consistently at 40-knots-plus, stuff breaks,” Fauth says, noting that the 75-foot vessel weighing 1,200 pounds was hoisted out of the water following each practice and race. “It’s about efficiency and durability. Hopefully, efficiency equates to speed, and durability suggests you will stay on the racecourse and not have to drop out because of a broken item on the boat. You can’t win if you don’t finish.”