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America's Cup - Jimmy on Jimmy

by Richard Gladwell, NZ on 29 Aug 2017
America's Cup Match - Oracle Team USA - Jimmy Spithill BMW | Studio Borlenghi
The first of three America's Cup books due to come out in the next couple of months has been released.

Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill's biography, 'Chasing the Cup, My America's Cup Journey' was released today and is a fast forward through the twice winner of the America's Cup winner's sailing and personal life.

Now aged a relatively young 38 years, the tenor of the book is that the feisty Australian, and twice winner of the trophy is far from finished with the sport and America's Cup in particular. Spithill has sailed in six America's Cup campaigns from 2000 - 2017.

Spithill has a unique path to the America's Cup, not having come up through the accepted route of junior and youth sailing classes, moving into the Olympics and then onto the Cup. Of his fellow competitors in Bermuda, Peter Burling, Nathan Outteridge, Ben Ainslie and Dean Barker came via that pathway. Franck Cammas is from trans-oceanic multihulls in commons with all French sailing heroes.

Spithill is different coming via Struggle Street, and then up through the match racing ranks, where the boats are all supplied, and skill is the determinant of results on this the most level of playing fields.

Always known as a boxer, the first couple of chapters deal with Spithill's early life experiences where he learned a few of life's hard lessons and dodged a bullet or two. Named as Junior Boxer of the Year and on his way to make the Australian Olympic Team, Spithill opted for sailing as a sport.

“One reason being that boxing has such a short 'use-by' date.'

'One of the great things about sailing is that you can spend your life enjoying it, but that's not the case if you are a boxer.'

Soon afterwards he was instead named as Australia's Junior Yachtsman of the Year.

There's plenty of personal insights, including the effect on him of the sudden death of his close friend, Paul Wallbank, and the near loss of left arm after his arm became infected following an operation to repair a torn tendon, and more.

Written in conjunction with top Australian author and sailing commentator, Rob Mundle, the 120page book covers Spithill's rise through the match racing ranks and into his first foray into the America's Cup via the Syd Fischer backed Young Australia campaign in the 2000 regatta in Auckland. He sailed a 1995 vintage boat from the using a barge in the Viaduct Harbour as a base.

However, while that campaign gave Spithill an America's Cup leg-up, its aftermath and a contractual dispute with Fischer almost prevented him from competing in the next Cup with the One World Team.

'Chasing the Cup' covers a lot of ground, probably enough to fill three books.

For the first time, we hear the inside story on several aspects of Oracle Racing's/Oracle Team USA's campaigns, including the 2010 America's Cup win in the 120ft trimaran Dogzilla and the risks associated with some of the decisions with that boat in the Deed of Gift Match.

Then onto the capsize of the team's first AC72 in San Francisco in October 2012, just ten months out from the start of the 2013 America's Cup.

While Spithill does cover the boat tampering incidents that led to the suspension of four team members, a $250,000 fine for the team and the loss of two points in the 34th America's Cup, he admits nothing.

'This action slipped through a crack in our organisation - it wasn't legal - but its impact on our performance was the equivalent was the equivalent of a mere drop of water going into a bucketful..'

Moving onto the reasons behind Oracle Team USA being able to effect a boat speed improvement over Emirates Team New Zealand in the latter stages of the 2013 Match, Spithill attributes it to the time the defender spent training. 'Any day that was not scheduled we were out on the bay training while, much to our surprise, the Kiwi team kept their boat shore.'

He echoes the change cited in 'The Billionaire and the Mechanic' where the team changed their wingsail to be more powerful, not being entirely sure that it could withstand the stress. Just before the last race, OTUSA broke a control arm requiring a rapid on the water repair which could have taken the defender out of the regatta and handed the America's Cup to Emirates Team New Zealand.

Jimmy wouldn't be Jimmy is he didn't have a word or three for the kiwi media - his weapon of choice to hit Team New Zealand ashore regardless of the result on the water.

'Of course I had been a bit cocky and arrogant at the press conferences during the Cup match, but that was all part of the game. I wanted to unsettle the Kiwis, especially since I believed they might be vulnerable. I remember one day when Joey [Newton] came up to me after a media conference and said: 'Mate, the Kiwis aren't enjoying your comments in there,' which to me meant I should keep it going and even turn up the heat a notch'.

Describing the 2017 America's Cup as 'the best racing ever seen in an America's Cup,' Spithill doesn't let too many secrets go on the loss of the trophy.

After the first weekend of racing, he puts the 3-0 points scoreline down to 'a combination of speed and outsailing us.'

During the five day break, Spithill says Oracle reduced the size of their smaller high-speed foils to match Emirates Team New Zealand's and went for 'the most aggressive rudders available', saying the combination of the two 'really made the boat tough to drive, to the point of making it almost un-sailable.'

In the end, they came to the conclusion that the only way they could win was 'if we sailed perfectly.' Spithill readily concedes that the better team won.

The last chapters were written in Bermuda, where the author Rob Mundle was present for the Match with most of the book already written.

Clearly, there were two ways it could have finished - with Spithill having achieved the outstanding 'three-peat', or going out on a two win, one loss America's Cup record and keen to come back for more.

He dwells on his age, refuting that at 38years old he is 'past it' and concludes with a boxing analogy: ' I'd like to be remembered for getting up off the canvas- not for hitting it. I've just come off copping one of the biggest hidings of my life, but I ain't no feather duster.

'Not done yet.'

The blurb on the back cover described 'Chasing the Cup, My America's Cup Journey' is described as 'a rare insight into the mindset of a man at the top of his game.'

It is that for sure.

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