America’s Magic Man: Porter Reaches Boatbuilding Pinnacle

By: Brad Joyal

Topics: Boating , Orleans news

Orleans native Brian Porter, 31, worked on the boatbuilding team for American Magic, an American yacht racing team that was formed in October 2017 to compete in the 36th edition of the America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand. PHOTO BY SAILING ENERGY/AMERICAN MAGIC

Brian Porter still recalls how he felt when he began his first job in the boatbuilding shop at Arey’s Pond Boat Yard while he was attending Nauset Regional High School.

“I was like, ‘This is awesome. It’s like woodshop all day and I’m getting paid for it,’” recalls Porter, who also spent a couple of his teenage years interning for the now defunct Pleasant Bay Boat and Spar Company in his hometown of Orleans. “I just kind of ran with it.”

Porter had already developed a real passion and skill set for building before he started working for owner Tony Davis at Arey’s Pond. As a teenager, he was capable of crafting small pieces of furniture, jewelry boxes and various other knickknacks. He eventually got good at making canoe paddles and even sold some of his work.

“My father had a decent relationship with Tony Davis and he knew I was looking for a job,” said Porter, 31, a 2008 graduate of Nauset. “Tony was happy enough to give me a shot in the boatbuilding shop and I just fell in love with it.”

More than a decade has passed since Porter landed his first boatbuilding job, and the Orleans native’s love for the work remains intact.

Porter recently wrapped up the biggest boatbuilding adventure of his professional career, as he returned home to the Lower Cape from Auckland, New Zealand, after spending roughly three and a half years working for American Magic, an American yacht racing team that was formed in October 2017 to compete in the 36th edition of the America’s Cup.

The America’s Cup competition is yachting’s premier event, and the America’s Cup trophy — often referred to as the Auld Mug — is the trophy awarded to the winning yacht that sails in the match races. The competition dates back to 1851, meaning the Cup holds the distinction of being the oldest trophy in international sports, predating the modern Olympic Games by 45 years.

American Magic was formed by Bella Mente Racing, Quantum Racing and the New York Yacht Club, which has a lengthy and storied history competing in — and winning — America’s Cups over the years.

“It’s been an honor to be a part of the team and to represent the New York Yacht Club,” Porter said. “The history of the New York Yacht Club with the America’s Cup is almost as deep as the history of the America’s Cup itself. To be able to be a part of the team that represents the club has been great.”

Porter and the rest of the boatbuilding team — which included about 50 members — were stationed in Bristol, R.I. The team built two boats, with construction time for each lasting roughly eight months, according to Porter, who noted each boat requires months of extensive research, development and designing before building can commence.

Part of the uniqueness of the boats is that they must meet specifications set up by the defending champion. This year, it was New Zealand which determined the parameters.

“These boats are designed by a class rule that has been set up by Team New Zealand,” Porter said. “It’s basically what you call a box rule, which means each competitor’s boat has to fit in a box dimensionally wise and weight wise and everything.”

In order to reach the America’s Cup, teams must first win the Prada Cup, a round-robin tournament that determines the “challenger” that advances to face the defending champion. Unfortunately for Porter and the American Magic team, its America’s Cup hopes were shattered early.

The team was eliminated from the Prada Cup on Jan. 30 following four consecutive losses in Auckland. The most daunting day of competition came Jan. 17, when the team’s primary boat, Patriot, capsized after a massive wind gust sent American Magic crashing onto its side.

The American yacht, which cost millions to build, was leading at the time of the crash, a detail that makes the dramatic moment even tougher for Porter and his teammates to digest.

“To watch the thing lay over on its side during a race we were leading was heartbreaking in of itself,” said Porter. “Then, to hear over the radio that there’s a puncture in the hull and the boat was sinking — your guts are just turned inside out.”

With the help of rival teams, firemen and local rescue teams on the water, the Americans were able to salvage the boat and return it to shore. They managed to fix it and get it back on the water, though the team failed to regain the mojo it established before the crash.

Although the effort didn’t end in victory, Porter said he was honored to be a part of such a historic event at his age. He remembers watching the 34th America’s Cup, held in San Francisco in 2013, and how his jaw dropped when he saw the speeds at which the sailing yachts traveled and the closeness of the competition.

“It was at that point that I thought, ‘You know, maybe at some point in my life I’ll have an opportunity to get involved with an America’s Cup program,’” he said. “In my mind, I was thinking maybe I’d be in my 40s or something and I’d be a refined enough boatbuilder to be able to get involved.”

Porter’s introduction to the America’s Cup came when he did some intermittent work for Team Japan at the 2017 Cup held in Bermuda, though his work for American Magic was much more rigorous. That’s why the Cape native said he’s looking forward to taking a step back before deciding his next move.

“I’ll certainly be taking some time to decompress,” Porter said. “It’s been a huge effort the past three and a half years. You have to give yourself some time to decompress and determine what you want to do next.”

Email Brad Joyal at brad@capecodchronicle.com