Kirby: ‘I had Joey by the feet’

ORACLE TEAM USA © ACEA / Gilles Martin-Raget

Rome Kirby is a newcomer to ORACLE TEAM USA. The 23-year-old joined the team in summer, before the start of the second season of the America’s Cup World Series and after a circumnavigation of the globe aboard PUMA in the Volvo Ocean Race.

A member of Generation Y, Kirby is an accomplished young sailor. But he spoke with a mix of bewilderment and shock in recounting the capsize of ORACLE TEAM USA’s 17.

“It all happened pretty quickly. The windward bow dug in and didn’t pop up like normal,” said Kirby, a headsail trimmer. “We went into a bear away pretty quick with just a jib up. We didn’t even have a gennaker up. We’d done about five bear-aways before, and this one we went into the bear-away and just went over.”

Rome Kirby Rome Kirby

Kirby was riding forward alongside trimmer Joey Newton and grinder Jono MacBeth. Kirby said that Newton was flung outside the pod they were trimming from and that he grabbed Newton by the feet as he was dangling overboard.

“Joey was hanging by jib sheets, so I hung onto his feet,” Kirby said. “He slid back in, and we both got back into the pod. Jono was right behind me. We had a mellow discussion between three of us how we’d get out. We were worried that rig would break and the platform would go over and we’d be trapped. The rig stayed intact long enough and then Joey said let’s get out, and we all ditched.”

Kirby likened the speed of the AC72 to the Volvo 70 that he raced last winter around the world, but said the two are hard to compare because the America’s Cup is sailed inshore under watchful eyes while the Volvo is out of sight.

“The fear factor… We definitely went through sketchier things in the Volvo, but with a catamaran you’re going similar speeds. I think we were doing close to 37 knots downwind today,” said Kirby.

“All the tenders were there on site, they did a nice job. We got in the tenders and they had a head count going. It took 3-5 minutes to know everyone was OK,” said Kirby. “But knowing there are five chase boats and rescue divers and doctors… We were mostly thinking get out of the way of the platform. But we were in sight of land, so once everyone’s safe all’s fine.”

Related videos:
ORACLE TEAM USA 17 capsize
Tactician Tom Slingsby on what it feels like as the boat goes over
Skipper Jimmy Spithill on how he expects the team to bounce back
ORACLE TEAM USA capsize their AC72 on San Francisco Bay
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ORACLE TEAM USA sailors recount the capsize of 17
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