by ISAF Media
Insight from an America's Cup winning tactician to a winning skipper. ISAF Vice-President Gary Jobson caught up with Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill at the end of 2013. Offering a fascinating look into the 2013 America's Cup, Jobson and Spithill analyse what went down in San Francisco, USA.
Oracle Team USA celebrates
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'So I understand that you took some flying lessons. Did that help you understand wings, foils, aerodynamics?'
'Definitely. I actually took the flying lessons, got my license when we did the wing on the trimaran. That wing on that trimaran was the biggest wing ever built in the world. Aircraft Aerospace. Everything. 230 feet. Massive. Doesn't fit under the Golden Gate Bridge if we were to sail the boat there. It's a huge bit of kit. I just figured, look the best way to learn about wings is to get a pilot's license. I had a break. I had a couple weeks off at the time and I thought okay down to Australia and I sort of went to this sort of little country air strip and learned with a couple of great guys. We went up and everything. I said I've only got two weeks. We have to go up every day in this little, tiny two seaters Cessna. It was straight away, it was amazing how similar it is to sailing. It's all about lift, drag, balance. A well set up plane is very easy to fly. Just like a boat that is well set up, it's easy to sail. Get your head out of the boat and look around and you're not fighting the boat. The same with the plane.
'It was amazing to see how many people in sailing have their pilot's license. Tom Schnackenberg, Russell Coutts, and Larry Ellison. I could go on and on and on. I'm really fascinated by it. The next one on my list is the helicopter. It sort of reminds me of these boats that you've got so many things going on at once. The flying, yes, I love it. It's an amazing thing out there and certainly the technology.'
'Not only flying lessons, some boxing and boxing lessons. How did that help you out?'
'The boxing, you've probably all heard me say this but when you grow up with red hair, you don't get a choice. At some point you will be boxing and probably earlier than you think. Certainly in Australia that was the case. It was funny. The thing is, when I started boxing was I actually had this relationship with the coach. And it could have been anything. It could have been football, soccer, it could have been dancing. Who know? It could have been anything. It was just the fact that I met this guy and he was fantastic. He was almost like a second father to me. He just gave me some great morals and values and sort of respect that I think at the time I was probably lacking. I was probably getting into a little trouble at school and things weren't great at home at that time. He really put me back on the straight and narrow. And I think for kids it is important. Often times you have to get away from the household and those sort of relationships are key and it just happen to be boxing.
'But where it really did come into play was you have to have fantastic hand-eye coordination and reflexes. The thing about boxing is trying to think when you're exhausted. And that is something, as a team, we trained very, very hard on and did all sorts of mental games and exercises. We worked with some Navy Seal guys about making decisions when you're exhausted because that's what this boat is about. And most of the time when you make a bad decision it's because it's rushed or you're struggling just trying to get some air in and out of you. So we worked very hard on that. Boxing was part of it.
'The physical training on these boats is like something…the level is right up there with NFL and all the other sports. These guys are 100% heart rate and they go for 30 minutes from the start to finish. There's not many games like that in a team sport. There's no time outs. There's no halftime, commercial breaks. It's full on and they're on the edge. There's a lot of risk there but you do it together. For sure, the physical side, I think that for non-sailors, is what blew them away when they saw these guys. I'm the smallest on the boat but you've got linebackers basically getting on and off this boat. And incredible on their feet. Incredible sailors. Very, very good athletes. It's another level.'
'I got to sail on your boat and thank you for the invitation to spend a day. The truth is it's the first time I've been on the sailboat. I even volunteered to steer. I was just grateful I didn't fall over the boat. Halfway through the day there was a short lunch break and Jimmy leans over to me and says, 'so should we go back to 12 meters?' Well that begs the question what's the next edition Cup going to be? What kind of boat are we going to see?'
'It's a great question. Where to now? I think Larry and Russell's vision was to create something that people would watch on TV that you could bring in so people could watch it from land. But more importantly to get non-sailors involved in the sport. Get more people involved in the sport and just see how cool this really is. I think they hit it out of the park.
'Obviously the comeback helped, no question. But in my mind the boat was the star of the show. It doesn't matter if you're a sailor or not, people look at them, kids look at them and they just go, Wow! That is amazing. I think probably the first question is where is the event? That needs to be done. And obviously Larry needs to really just make that decision. The next one, how many teams are going to arrive if we use a 72? Obviously we need to get more teams involved. We need to reduce the costs. But I think the point is that style of racing is, I think, fantastic for this end of the sport. I think the fact that non-sailors can watch it on TV, they don't change the channel.
'Families in San Francisco, I met a family from Oakland, you know deep in Oakland, never sailed. Had nothing to do with the Bay. They came down, they checked it out. It was one of the best days of their lives. They could do it as a family. They could check it out and see it. There were all sorts of activities on the shore. There's not many stadium style events you can watch for free. You come down and do it with your family for free. It's just two 30-minute races. So I think the concept really worked.
'Now we need to get more teams involved. We need to make it better. But look, I tell you, with Larry and someone like that, and Russell, that can really look ahead a lot further than a lot of us can look. I think it is in great hands. Pretty exciting just thinking about that. The Red Bull Youth America's Cup, another classic vision from Larry and Russell. All these things, it's just really exciting to think what's in store now. What's next? I think we're going to see the same style of racing and format because it just seemed to work so well on TV but also watching live.'
'When I was aboard the boat, and I'll tell you my eyebrows raised a little bit because there's a first time we're coming into the leeward gate and I think we're doing 38 or something and you've got to turn this thing upwind and we're up on foils. I was wedged in there between John Kostecki and Slingsby and we came around and we slowed down to about 24 going on the wind and in the middle of this, and I'm totally soaked, John Kostecki leans over and whispers to me, 'Gary', 'Yes John', 'You know Spithill is fearless', 'No s**t'. Were you ever fearful out there? Did you have any concerns or fears out there?'
'For sure. You sail a boat like that it takes you out of your comfort zone regularly. It gets your attention. But I think for anyone or any athlete or any person that wants to learn about themselves and, of course, their teammates, but I guess individually, the best way to learn about yourself is actually to take yourself out of your comfort zone. And to sail that boat well or to take steps forward in the learning process you had to do that. Like it was before we were foiling, we had to work up on the foils then. Okay you slowly start ticking into the 40s and then the high 40s knots and then, okay, full jibing. And like Gary talked about, going around the bottom mark, it gets your attention. It's incredibly exhilarating but it's demanding.
'Certainly at the end of the day when you sail a boat like that and you've taken 10 of your best mates out there and put them on the front line it's draining. Demanding but rewarding is what I'd say, especially on that race track.'
'The score was 8-8 and I wrote it's almost too bad we can't just declare a tie here between the two teams because both had done so well. But, of course, it's the nature of sport, somebody is going to win. I bet everybody in this room has some compassion for the New Zealanders and Dean Barker. You and Dean for sure will share something for the rest of your lives. Tell us a little bit about Dean Barker.'
'He's an incredible guy. He's a quiet guy but he's certainly someone that you can tell is a great family guy. Very good team guy. We've had some fantastic battles over the years. I certainly think the New Zealand audience, I guess I sort of became Public Enemy number one down in New Zealand. You sort of go through this competition and you're trying anything you can to get some sort of a competitive advantage. So you know there are all sorts of mind games going on on the shore and the press conference, out on the water. But, like in any sport you do, and the guys on my boat and his boat, once you've finished the race, win, lose or draw, the fact is you've shared something with somewhat of an enemy but also they've become your closest friends at the end. You've been through something that no one else really understands what you've been through except for those two teams on the water. And it's something pretty special.
'Dean had the weight of New Zealand on his shoulders. The Kiwi press is very, very tough. I was just so impressed the whole way how he handled it. And how his team everyday handled it and took it on. They are one of the best teams in the world. You look at the past 10 years they've really dominated. When you go up against Team New Zealand you're expecting the fight of your life. And that's exactly what we got and what both teams saw. I've always said champions and champion teams are the ones that can get back up off the canvas, come back from adversity.
'There's no doubt in mind he'll be back and Team New Zealand will be back. And they'll be back out on the water and we'll be going head to head and it will probably end up the same way where it will go down to the final race. And who knows, it will be just one incredible battle.'