Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Racing and Chasing

October 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Perhaps you followed the great America’s Cup races in 2013, in which Team USA overcame a massive deficit in points to snatch victory from Team New Zealand. I did as well, but if Team USA captain Jimmy Spithill sat next to me in a launch, I wouldn’t have recognized him, as speed racing on open waters is mostly shown on TV from afar. Reading Chasing the Cup, My America’s Cup Journey by Spithill (with Rob Mundle), was therefore a welcome close-up of this champion athlete.

Jimmy Spithill Chasing the Cup book coverSpithill recalls growing up in Australia with a love for (OK, obsession with) race sailing, supported by his parents but lacking the funds to set his sights on the Olympics. Instead this bullied young man with a physical abnormality set his sights on winning regattas, and win them he did, starting at the age of 10. Along the way, he attracted recognition and mentors (as well as harsh taskmasters) and at age 20, was skippering in the America’s Cup.

Spithill recounts in chilling detail how bigger and faster sailing race crafts place crews in grave danger, putting Team USA’s win in the 2010 Cup in a whole new light for the reader. The goal was to win, yes, but surviving and not wrecking the vessel were two additional goals of every team member.

By Javier SalinasAs the 2013 comeback for Team USA unfolded, I watched with the same wonder as I do field and track events in the Olympics. I know the participants are highly trained and gifted athletes, but I have no real clue as to what it takes to be tops in a field. In Chasing the Cup, readers get insight into the design tweaks, on-the-fly strategies, athletic conditioning, and mental demons that plague even the best of the best. There are also details as to the scoring system and setbacks that made the Team USA victory over New England an even greater feat than it appeared.

Skipper Spithill presents his motivations as well as his foibles in an engaging read. He shares the lessons he learned from successful entrepreneurs and sailors, and recounts his regrets (and a nasty bout of seasickness) with humanity and humility. You need not be a fan of sailboat racing to enjoy Chasing the Cup, My America’s Cup Journey, as long as you’re up for a fast-paced tale about a course to achieving lofty goals.

Book review by Lita Smith-Mines


webPlus_web_green1  Read an excerpt from the book


At 1am, 10 hours after capsizing, we reached our home based at Pier 80. What had been, just hours earlier, the world’s most technologically advanced high-performance sailboat was now at the end of the tow rope behind us looking like a pathetic pile of rubbish — clear evidence that when Mother Nature wants to teach you a lesson, she will always win.

We set about pumping a huge amount of water out of the hulls — cubic metres of it — which made us comprehend it was a miracle that the whole thing hadn’t broken up and sunk out there. By then, however, everyone needed to rest, so we left the boat there for the night.

At 3am I drove the 8 kilometres (5 miles) up to my townhouse in the Marina District next to the Golden Gate Bridge, where Jenn and the boys were sleeping. I climbed into bed but quickly realised that there was no way I would be able to sleep. My mind was spinning with all the dumb decisions I had made that day. For example, I knew that where we flipped was known to have the strongest current in all of San Francisco Bay, so why were we there? What had I been thinking? I had put us in the worst possible place even if it hadn’t been windy. Why hadn’t we discussed the current in our planning meetings, or considered the fact that if we had a breakdown, the current was going to propel us offshore and into danger?

While money is important in an America’s Cup campaign, time is more valuable, because the date of the first race doesn’t move—the time is finite. So there I was tossing and turning, asking myself how much time this incident would cost the team.

The next morning, not long after I arrived at the base, Larry called. Obviously I was expecting to hear from him, and from the moment I heard his voice, I put my hand up:

‘I’m sorry. I was responsible. I take full responsibility.’

‘That’s not why I called. I know what you guys are doing is tough. Nobody has ever done it before; the America’s Cup is not meant to be easy. But I think you guys can come up with a new plan. I still think you can win.’

I was dumbfounded—I didn’t know what to say. A couple of seconds of silence followed before Larry spoke again.

‘Jimmy, champions and champion teams always come back from adversity and tough situations. In my mind I have no doubt you will get the job done. You guys will come up with a new plan, and you’ll figure it out how to win.’


Excerpted from Chasing the Cup: My America’s Cup Journey by Jimmy Spithill. Copyright © Jimmy Spithill, 2017. Published by Adlard Coles, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing. Reprinted with permission.​



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