Jimmy Spithill: The Young Veteran

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For a man who took to boxing at a young age as a means of defending his red hair, Jimmy Spithill knows he’s about to enter the fight of his life.

“I’m expecting next week to be the toughest working week of my life. That’s what motivates me and this team,” said Spithill, the skipper of ORACLE TEAM USA. “To win the America’s Cup is one of the hardest things you’ll do in life. But it is so rewarding. When you coordinate such a big team together, when you can get it to work, it’s hard to put words to it. We’re ready to get out there. I haven’t seen the guys so motivated. They’re fired up to get out there.”

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Spithill burst onto the America’s Cup scene in 1999. Then 19 years old, he was the youngest sailor to ever skipper an America’s Cup yacht. The ORACLE TEAM USA skipper went one better in 2010 when, at 30 years of age, he became the youngest skipper in the history of the competition to win the America’s Cup.

One of Spithill’s early defining moments came when he was 4 years old. In September 1983 the crew of the 12-Meter Australia II overcame the New York Yacht Club to win the America’s Cup, the trophy that the American club had held for 132 years.

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In Australia, the win resonated throughout the country. The nation was given the day off from work to celebrate and the sailors returned to a hero’s welcome. Included in the crew were Colin Beashel and Rob Brown. The two also happened to be neighbors of Spithill’s in Elvina Bay, a small neighborhood in Pittwater, north of Sydney.

“When Australia II won, all the people in the bay – it was just a small community, no roads, you had to get there by boat – all got together and obviously it was just a long party at the Beashels following the victory,” said Spithill. “When you’re a young kid seeing that, growing up, you go to school by boat, you naturally know that’s what you want to do. I wanted to be one of those guys that won the America’s Cup.”

Now a grizzled veteran of 34, Spithill is on his fifth America’s Cup campaign. He may no longer have the innocence of youth on his side, but a competitive fire still burns in the Australian skipper as brightly now as it ever has.

“Competition is a great leveler,” says Spithill. “Once the bell sounds, once the start gun goes off, when you’re able to pull it all off and get the result, there’s such an unbelievable feeling. That’s what keeps you coming back for more.”

His hobbies befit his competitive streak. Boxing for fitness. Flying for fun.

The boxing dates back to his youth and came about as a consequence of his hair color. “When you grow up with red hair, you don’t have much of a choice. At some point, you start fighting back,” he says.

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The flying was a way to learn about wings. In the 2010 America’s Cup, Spithill guided USA 17, which was powered by the largest wing sail that’s ever been constructed. At 223 feet tall, it wouldn’t fit under the Golden Gate Bridge. “Flying is similar to sailing. It’s all about weight, balance, and being smooth,” says Spithill. “It was the best way to see a different side of aerodynamics.”

At the helm of ORACLE TEAM USA 17, he gets to marry aerodynamics and hydrodynamics for an exhilarating ride.

“One of coolest things of going to multihulls is that we’re foiling. It’s one of the coolest advancements in this Cup,” Spithill says. “Foils are the future. For sailing and for kids, the next generation, when you go up and speak to junior sailors and non sailors, they look at the sport as cool and fun. It’s so exciting to get out on foils and I’m looking forward to seeing where it ends up in five or six years.”

The secret to his success? “I don’t have any more talent than anyone else out there. But I certainly work hard.”

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