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America's Cup: Jimmy Spithill looks forward to seventh Cup

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 10 Apr 06:25 PDT 11 April 2019
The turning point of the 34th America's Cup - Jimmy Spithill steps back aboard OTUSA after the decision is made to replace tactician John Kostecki with Ben Ainslie and then decline to race in the second race of Day 3. © Richard Gladwell Sail-World.com

As part of the launch of the Italian language edition of his biography, former Oracle Team USA skipper, Jimmy Spithill couldn't resist a small indulgence in one of his favourite pastimes - teasing the Kiwi fans and media

He got a bite with stories in the major outlets, and created a mid-week talking point.

At the daily media conferences in Bermuda, and previously in San Francisco, the twice America's Cup winner regularly dined out on edgy questions from the sizeable New Zealand media contingent, and used the opportunity to rattle the cage of the Kiwi team.

The topics ranged wide - like telling ETNZ, they should be running a specialist tactician after OTUSA beat them in the Qualifiers in Bermuda. Talking up the benefits of adding a "hybrid" cyclist aft of the helmsman. Waxing lyrical about a large boatbuilding team that was arriving from Core Builders in New Zealand due to arrive in Bermuda to implement a raft of changes in the five-day break between Races 4 and 5 in the America's Cup Match. Feeding the paranoia amongst the Kiwi media that OTUSA's nuclear option was to ram the Kiwis - and to underline the story, there was the photo-opportunity of two OTUSA crew carrying a bow section from the Japanese team base next door to OTUSA.

Having returned to his old team Luna Rossa, Spithill has been notable for his silence, until he was interviewed by La Stampa's America's Cup correspondent Fabio Pozzo on the occasion of the launch of the Italian edition of his biography "50 knots. Chasing the America's Cup."

In San Francisco, in 2013, Spithill was at the helm of Oracle USA and was losing 1-8 in the America's Cup final against Team New Zealand "What gave you the strength to go on?" La Stampa asked. "A great team that refused to give up," was Spithill's quick response.

After winning the 34th America's Cup by 9-8 on points, or 11-8 wins, much has been written and speculated as to why the home team was able to manage a stunning comeback - partially facilitated by an excellent run of good fortune. That included being able to glue a broken crossarm back onto the towering wingsail of the Defender with five minutes on the clock before the start of the 19th race in the Match.

La Stampa picked up where the Kiwi media left off in Bermuda asking "you used a forbidden electronic device to give more stability to the boat" - a probable reference to the "Herbie" flight controller reported during one of the TVNZ commentaries during the final week of what was turning into a very long regatta for Kiwi fans, in September 2013..

"We simply learned to run the catamaran raised on foils even upwind. Both us and the Kiwis had tried this technique before the race, to no avail. On 1-8 we realised that we were slower than them and that without upwind foiling we would have lost," Spithill replied - on a serious note.

However, that state only lasted a couple of sentences before he returned another high lob in the direction of the Kiwi nation.

"Ironically, in the last edition of the Cup, in Bermuda [where OTUSA was defeated 7-1 on points or 8-1 on wins by ETNZ], Team New Zealand had a mysterious device that helped the crew control foiling."

"But it was never reported in the New Zealand media," he added - leaving the question to hang.

The devices to which Spithill alluded was an X-Box type controller which was used by ETNZ Skipper and wingsail controller, Glenn Ashby.

For flight control, a different system was used by cyclors Blair Tuke and Andy Maloney. It was developed from a fully automated flight control system, which was then degraded to have the required minimum of manual intervention demanded by the rules. Multiple software functions were able to be triggered from a single manual action.

Written by leading America's Cup author, Rob Mundle Spithill's autobiography treads an interesting path between events that shaped his early sailing career and how he came to be the youngest skipper to helm an America's Cup Challenger at 20 years old.

Sydney based property developer and top yachtsman, Syd Fischer gave Spithill his first big break, putting him on the helm of Young Australia, a 1995 Challenger owned by Fischer, in what was to become a bargain-basement America's Cup campaign.

After signing him for the 2003 America's Cup, Fischer threatened to sue Spithill for a breach of contract after the Young Australia helmsman was headhunted by One World (USA) and made an offer he couldn't refuse.

La Stampa asked what Syd Fischer meant when he told Spithill: "One day you're a rooster, the next day a powder puff".

"That you must always stay with your feet on the ground and be humble, especially during your successes, because you never know what tomorrow can reserve for you".

More psychology: "in 2017 in Bermuda you lost the Cup. How do you get back up?"

"This is the point - get up again. You have to be honest with yourself, learn from every lesson and get stronger, don't hide. Defeat is nothing but formation." Sphithill replied.

After Fischer backed off his lawsuit on the Courthouse steps, Spithill was free to move to One World for the 2003 America's Cup, and then to Italian Luna Rossa for the 2007 America's Cup in Valencia, Spain.

One of just five helmsmen in the world to have helmed 70ft monohulls and the foiling AC50's, Spithill is now back with his former team, Challenger of Record, Luna Rossa and will vie for the helming role on the foiling AC75 monohull.

Asked by La Stampa if he felt his latest role was a return home, Spithill replied: "In a certain way, yes. But even more important is that Luna Rossa represents for me the opportunity for another challenge.

"I have great respect for the patron Patrizio Bertelli, for his passion and for his desire to continue to fight and not to give up the dream of winning the Cup. His attitude of never giving up is also mine. And then, being involved in the campaign of an Italian team that wins the Cup for the first time would be an incredible experience ".

As well as the new Italian edition, Jimmy Spithill's English version "Chasing the Cup, My America's Cup Journey" is available in bookshops and online purchase.

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