Jobson Meets Spithill - Part 1
Jimmy Spithill at an AC34 press conference
©ACEA / Abner Kingman
From an America's Cup winning tactician to a winning skipper. ISAF Vice-President Gary Jobson caught up with ORACLE TEAM USA skipper Jimmy Spithill at the end of 2013.
Offering a fascinating insight into the 2013 America's Cup, Jobson and Spithill analyse what went down in San Francisco, USA.
Enjoy part 1 of 5… Part 2 will follow on 10 January 2014.
"All of us here love sailing and everybody is a sporting enthusiast and everybody likes an underdog and everybody likes a good contest, and when Jimmy walked into the press room the score was now 8-1, Emirates Team New Zealand had won their eighth race. One more race and it was over for your team. You walked in there and declared, "we can win races, we're not done. This could be the greatest comeback in sailing." And I was sitting there thinking well either you're going to be the next Joe Namath guaranteeing victory in the Super Bowl, or look like Y.A. Tittle in the end zone after losing the championship. You're the next Joe Namath. What was in your head that gave you the confidence to say that we could turn this around?"
"I think it's the people around you that give you the confidence. The America's Cup, by no question, is by far the biggest team sport out there. It's huge team size. We're talking over 100 people. Obviously there's the sailors. There's the guys that are on the boat that go out and do the racing. But really you're nothing without all your other team members. The shore teams, what we call the pit crews, the designers, the engineers, the people in the office, the guys cleaning the base. Everyone is just as important as the other person. I think once you get out on the water, for me, it's looking next to the guy standing within the guys, that guy that you face on either side of you and knowing that he'll do anything for you. He is almost like you, in fear of letting your teammates down. It's that sort of dedication. You'll do anything. Whatever it takes for your teammate. And when you get that sort of synergy involved and where your teammates put the team number 1 and themselves #2, then that's the ultimate. That's team sport. When you look around even up to the Navy Seal level, that's something that is consistent in, almost like a family or brotherhood of guys that will just do anything for their teammates. That really is a really rewarding thing when you get that thing. It's hard to put words to it, I'm probably not doing a good job of it, but it's an amazing feeling."
"You're always doing a good job. Let's take Race 1 and Race 2. Race1 and 2, in my view, the New Zealand team clobbered you in about every category. They tacked better, they jibed better, they were faster upwind, maybe it was about even downwind. They won the first start and at the end of that first day, things were looking a little bleak. But apparently the next morning you showed up at the boat and the America's Cup was sitting there by the boat. Did that give you some inspiration?"
"It was pretty interesting. Obviously the first two races didn't go as we had hoped. It wasn't the start we were after but we also knew it was a long series. The longest America's Cup ever to go that many races, or first to 9. So there was a long way to go. The key thing was learning, that's what it was all about. And often, in these events, especially when technology is involved like this, you need to face the very best. You need to be pushed like you've never been pushed before and that's where Emirates Team New Zealand came into play. They are one of the best teams out there. Have been over the past decade. I think together we both pushed each other to where we had never been before as teams. And that led to an credible learning curve, very, very steep.
"But also, what Gary eludes to, after the first weekend's racing the guys decided to put the Cup out and put it right out where we would walk past, where we would have breakfast and on our way to the boat. You look at it and you go, I don't want to let that thing go. That's a pretty nice trophy that one. There's so much behind it, over 160 years. It predates the modern Olympics. When you think about it, it's really quite mind blowing. I think it has a different meaning for everyone on the team. They've got their own sort of motivation and looking at it but it was special just to see it there each day we went out to the racing. But funny enough I did notice when we got to, I think, 7-1 down, that it got packed up. I'm sort of thinking; hang on, who on this team doesn't think we can do this?"
"Let's get into some meat here. We were watching. Let's face it after that first weekend you started going faster and faster which made me eventually think if this Cup had gone another week, heaven forbid, how much faster would you have gone? So let's just kind of go through it, what things did you do to the boat, you talk about attitude and the team, great, but what about the boat? What did you do to go faster?
"The biggest thing we did to the boat was learn how to sail it. It really was. It was technique. It's sort of like, if you look at the foiling moth right now, when the foiling moth first came out there was one guy that could really sail the thing around the track. The 49er, when the 49er came out I remember people saying we've gone too far, it's too much. There was really only one guy then that could sail it. But now, kids sail them. My dad, he's in his late 60s, he sails a foiling moth now. So I think it takes time and it took us really that competition to learn how to sail the boat and how to foil it.
"Now the physical changes, what did we do? We re-churned the wing a little bit so we basically, we powered up the bottom flaps a little bit more. That's , I guess, the equivalent of really just powering up your mainsail or setting your mast up to just put some more shape there. Essentially dropping some rig aft in your boat. The other thing we did was take off the long spine, the bowsprit I guess you could call it. That was aggressive because if we had any light air races, which we had a couple, and if we had taken that off, we were lost. Plain and simple. The Code Zero sail which is a lot like a genniker for the sailors in here, we basically need about nine or 10 knots plus to not need that. So we'd just foil them downwind, get on the jib and the apparent wind would just drag you down to a deeper angle. But it was like a 6 or 7 hour job and often we would make the call at midnight based on weather modelling. It was a huge amount of pressure for our weather team and for all of us to take on. And we were making this call at 6:00am. But it made a difference.
"Windage, weight, we could load more weight onto the starboard side of the boat for the reaching which was important. We just thought, look it is time to step that up but they really were the physical changes. There was a whole lot you could really do to the boat. It was the bowsprit, probably the churn of the wing but by far in my mind was how the guys sailed the boat.
"Upwind foiling, both teams had played, dabbled in it a little bit before the competition, huge rewards when you got it right. But if you got it wrong, it was like jumping off a cliff. You could really lose a lot. The physical side of sailing these boats is like nothing we've ever seen. And to foil upwind was brutal It was nothing short of pure pain for the guys onboard. So it really took a big commitment from everyone. But when you got it right, as you could see, it paid off. It paid off in a straight line like it was….put it this way, we started off sailing what's called 16-18 knots of wind. Our targets were about 20, 22 knots boat speed upwind. By the end, our targets were changed to 30, 30 knots upwind. That's the learning curve we were going through.
"So physical changes not as big as you'd expect. I'd go into the press conference saying we're changing this, we're changing that, you play a lot of mind games in those press conferences with the other guys. Don't get me wrong, our shore team were there every night until midnight and a lot of times when we made this call in the early hours of the morning they were there just maintaining the boat. But it really was how the guys sailed the boat. It was just a huge learning curve."
"Why was it so hard, physically hard? You say it was really tough on the guys when you did upwind foiling. What was so" tough about it?"
"It was as if, with the wing, we had to pump the wing a lot of the time to keep it on the foil. If you've seen the wing, it's buildings stories high. It's 130 feet. Man does it have some power. So we have to pump this wing, and it's one to one, so it comes off the wing and it goes straight to the winch. There's no motor or anything like that. Everything on this boat gets done by human power. So it's a combination of helming, it was Kyle Langford who was trimming the wing, but the grinders absolutely digging it in on the handles.
"The other key adjustment was the foil rake. It's been so amusing seeing all these theories about we had a stability system and Herbie. I thought Herbie was a car that sort of went around in the movies. But anyway all sorts of stuff. But it is pretty plain and simple, we had a big hydraulic ram which we could push the dagger board, the foil forward and back. My steering wheel had buttons, forward and back. And to move that ram you have to move oil. And on a boat like that when you can only use human power, you've got to turn the handles. They turn a rotary pump and you move oil. That's how you move the ram. It's some real high pressure loading. So it's a combination of those things and that's how you got the upwind foiling. But it was very, very difficult. If you got it wrong, it was instantaneous."
Log on to the ISAF website on 10 January 2014 for part two.