Sunday, 7 February 2010

America's Cup: Profile of James Spithill, BMW ORACLE Racing

James Spithill. Image copyright Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW ORACLE Racing.

by Peter Rusch

Already on his fourth America's Cup campaign at the ripe old age of 30, skipper and helmsman of the USA, James Spithill (AUS), was all but forced into boating as a kid - that's what happens when you live on a small island.

"The only way to get to school or to the mainland was by boat so I was forced into boating at a very young age, before I went to school. It was just a way of life," he explains.

In truth, it doesn't seem like there was any 'forcing' going on. Spithill and his siblings took to the sport with ease and his enthusiasm for sailing was only boosted when Australia became the first team to successfully beat the Americans, taking the Cup from the New York Yacht Club in 1983.

"The Beashels used to live across the way from us and Colin won the America's Cup with Australia II in 1983 (Colin Beashal was mainsail trimmer). I was only five when they did it, but my dad says that after it happened I said, 'I'm going to do that one day'.

"As time went on, I really had a fascination with the Cup and had the dream of hopefully being part of a successful team. That's what I've been trying for ever since I've been involved."

James Spithill. Image copyright Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW ORACLE Racing.

That first taste of the Cup came as the skipper of the Young Australia campaign at the Louis Vuitton Cup in Auckland in 1999. The team was using an old boat, and on very restrictive budget, but Spithill and his crew turned heads for their confident performances and aggression on the start line. When Young Australia was eliminated, he was asked to join AmericaOne to help tune up Paul Cayard on his pre-start moves. A new talent had arrived.

Subsequently, Spithill has helmed the US challenger OneWorld (2003) and Luna Rossa (2007) in the past two America's Cups. He was recruited to join BMW ORACLE Racing after the last event finished.

Spithill has had to learn an entirely new discipline in multihulls and he's taken up the challenge with relish. He's bought himself an A-Class catamaran and vaulted up the class rankings over the past two years, finishing as high as sixth place in the World Championships last year. His versatility hasn't gone unnoticed.

"He's an incredibly talented sailor, not only in America's Cup boats but in dinghies and small keelboats," is the way Kostecki assesses his talent. "I have a lot of respect for people like Jimmy that are well rounded sailors. He's quite focused and hard-working and I've really been enjoying working with him."

Asked to name his best quality as a sailor and Spithill comes up with 'grace under pressure': "I really try to work on staying calm under pressure. When that decision making has to happen in a high pressure situation, I work on making the right decision. And if the ingredients are there to make the right call, that's usually what happens."

James Spithill. Image copyright Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW ORACLE Racing.

The pressure is sure to increase over the coming days as the first race of the 33rd America's Cup Match fast approaches. Not surprisingly, Spithill relishes the thought.

"It's an exciting time," he says "There's some nerves involved and there will be in the lead up to the start. But ultimately that's why we do it. It's that adrenalin and excitement in the lead up to any sort of race. Personally, I really can't wait."


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