Please select your home edition
Sea Sure 2020 - LEADERBOARD

America's Cup - Oracle Team USA win Kiwi sailor dismissal case

by Richard Gladwell, on 13 Aug 2015
Joe Spooner (forward) grinding in the 34th America’’s Cup - Final Match - Racing Day 10 ACEA /Gilles Martin-Raget
Oracle Team USA has won a case brought in the Northern District Court of California, by a crew member who had been with the team for 11 years.

Former New Zealand Finn sailor, Joe Spooner (40) had been signed on for the 35th America's Cup despite initial reservations by Oracle Team USA CEO, Russell Coutts that he was too old, and was past his physical peak.

Spooner argued differently, citing his fitness and strength testing data compared to the rest of the OTUSA crew, and Coutts altered his original decision.

A former member of Team New Zealand, for the 2003 America's Cup in Auckland, Spooner was a top Finn sailor. In 1997 he suffered a savage assault that left him with a fractured skull and memory loss. He had been a training partner for Finn and America's Cup sailor, Craig Monk at the 1996 Olympics in Savannah, Georgia.


To allow Spooner to work for the team in USA, Oracle Team USA supported Spooner's case for a US Visa O-1 Visa for an 'athlete of extraordinary achievement to participate in an athletic event or a series of such events'. Spooner had been with Oracle Team USA and its renditions for 11 years and had sailed in four campaigns for the team.

At that point, Spooner was expecting that the 35th America's Cup would be sailed in a US venue.

He entered into a contract with Oracle Team USA which saw him paid $7,500 per month from Feb 1 to June 30, 2014 and $25,000 per month until a week after the end of the final race for the 35th America's Cup. A win bonus was also on offer.

In fact, Spooner didn't sign a full contract but a Heads of Agreement, which became the operative document between Oracle Racing Inc and Spooner's company Allegro Yachting Ltd.

Spooner alleges that he signed the contract “under pressure” due to rumors that Coutts might withdraw unsigned contracts out of frustration with other sailors considering offers from other teams.

In December of 2014, Bermuda was selected as the venue for the 35th America's Cup, and Oracle Racing issued a “relocation plan” outlining compensation, travel, and housing arrangements for its employees. From previous documents filed with the Court, it is believed that approximately $4,000 was offered per month to compensate crew relocating to Bermuda. Spooner checked out accommodation options for his family in Bermuda and believed that $7,000/mth was a more reasonable amount.

Spooner determined that his relocation compensation would not adequately cover the cost of relocating his family to Bermuda, and requested a salary increase from $25,000 per month to $38,000 per month.

Spooner was initially told that compensation was not negotiable, says the Judgement, but team manager Tom Slingsby later told Spooner that Coutts and general manager Grant Simmer might be willing to compromise. Spooner sent an email to Oracle Racing leadership on January 15, 2015, stating that he had “made a commitment to Oracle Team USA, and [was] therefore not prepared to resign,” but asked that Oracle Racing provide third-party mediation of his request for greater compensation.

The next day, Simmer sent a letter to Spooner and Allegro stating that Oracle Racing would not increase compensation or provide mediation, and that “in light of Spooner's stated position that [he would] not otherwise relocate to Bermuda,” Oracle Racing was giving notice of termination of the contract effective January 31, 2015, said the Judgement.

In Court, it was determined that Spooner was a contractor of Oracle Racing Inc and not an employee.

It was also held that the America's Cup campaign was not a 'voyage' as could be claimed if Spooner were a seaman on a ship and had signed on for the duration of a voyage.

The Court determined that Oracle Racing Inc was within its rights in terminating Allegro Yachting and Spooner's contract at two weeks notice ending on January 31, 2015.

Previously Spooner had successfully had a writ attached to one of Oracle Team USA's AC45's to prevent it being shipped from San Francisco to Bermuda. The writ was lifted after a short while.

The parties had also agreed to enter into mediation, On July 17 before a retired Judge, but this failed, and the matter was resolved in front of Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero in the San Francisco-based Court in a Decision dated August 10, 2015. No order on costs has yet been made.

Henri-Lloyd 2021 INEOS TEAM UK - FOOTERFlagstaff 2020 - Oceanis Yacht 54 - FOOTERSea Sure 2021 - Transom Fittings - FOOTER

Related Articles

Q&A with INEOS TEAM UK's David 'Freddie' Carr
What it takes to sail the AC75 BRITANNIA Freddie is one of the more experienced members of the INEOS TEAM UK sailing team, having comped in four previous America's Cup campaigns going back to 2007.
Posted today at 9:00 am
Vendée Globe Day 75 morning update
Can a corner be cut? For the leaders who are 1000 or so miles SSW of the Azores this morning this stretch of the Atlantic is not as cooperative as it was forecast to be.
Posted today at 8:13 am
WMRT Tour Cards for the 2021 championship season
Six skippers awarded invitations to the world-championship level events The World Match Racing Tour (WMRT) has announced the six skippers awarded WMRT Tour Cards for the 2021 championship season.
Posted today at 6:13 am
SailGP's Season 2 to feature eight global events
Including 7 new venues from April 2021 to March 2022 SailGP - the sport's pinnacle league, and the first climate positive sports and entertainment property - has announced a full race schedule for its second season, which will feature eight national teams made up of the sport's best athletes.
Posted on 20 Jan
Vendée Globe Day 74: Seven days to destiny
Louis Burton could benefit from his position further west but has been slowed for two rankings The race at the front of the Vendée Globe is electrifying. None of the eight previous editions has ever witnessed a race finish as open and intense.
Posted on 20 Jan
New dates for 2022 ORC/IRC World Championship
A large fleet is expected to take part in Porto Cervo After consultation between the Federazione Italiana Vela (FIV), the Unione Vela Altura Italiana (UVAI) and the Union Nationale pour la Course au Large, the ORC, the RORC and the YCCS, the dates for the 2022 ORC/IRC World Championship have been changed.
Posted on 20 Jan
PlanetSail: What happened to Patriot
Prada Cup Round Robin 1 & 2 Analysis Round Robin 1 & 2 of the Prada Cup had delivered an explosive start on the road to the America's Cup. At the end of the opening stages, one team was up, another down and one in the middle.
Posted on 20 Jan
2021 Governor's Cup set for July 26-31, 2021
The Club will also host the 2021 Youth Match Racing Worlds Balboa Yacht Club has posted all the information necessary for requesting an invitation ("RFI") for the 54th Governor's Cup International Youth Match Racing Championship, July 26-31, 2021, on the event website.
Posted on 20 Jan
Salthouse create the ultimate coach boat
How Olympic coach Grant Beck helped the Salthouse Coach Boat leapfrog an entire design generation. Grant Beck is one of the world's most successful Olympic sailing coaches. He trained – amongst others - Barbara Kendall, Bruce Kendall, and Tom Ashley to Olympic medals and has made his mark across the sailing scene across a 40 year period.
Posted on 20 Jan
Vendée Globe Day 74 morning update
Charlie Dalin 'I need to be in good shape for this last bit' The leader is not overly worried. He expects to reconnect with Louis Burton - who is to leeward and working NW - as they reach the south of the Azores. But the final stage seems more complex in a SW'ly wind which needs to be utilised at the best angles.
Posted on 20 Jan