SAN FRANCISCO — If anything was made clear during the America’s Cup World Series (ACWS), sailed on San Francisco Bay this past week before potentially 1 million spectators, it was that Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill knows how to come back from behind and overcome adversity.
In the final fleet race, sailed on Sunday, Spithill’s boat started dead last in the fleet of 11, 45-foot catamarans (AC45s), yet came from behind to win. His accomplishment was all the more remarkable considering he had capsized his boat the previous afternoon, nearly preventing him from continuing.
In the capsize, Spithill’s AC45 was rounding an offset mark while setting its massive genniker sail. A 20-knot “puff” filled the big sail, causing the boat’s leeward pontoon to dive, tripping the AC45 over itself in what’s called a “pitch pole.” The Oracle crew dangled from the boat’s upturned deck netting, while Wing Trimmer Dirk de Ridder held Spithill from begin thrown onto the AC45’s wing sail and possibly incapacitating it. As it was, several frames were broken at the top of the wing.
Spectators Julie and Rick Willson of Cameron Park and Robyn and Chris Parker of Placerville gasped and shouted, “Oh, no!,” as they watched Spithill pitch pole the million dollar boat. They’d sailed Parker’s Packet 35, Robyn’s Nest, out of Alameda on Friday to bob among a spectator fleet estimated by the U.S. Coast Guard to number 1,000 boats, but then stood on a jetty near the finish pin to watch the action between sips of El Dorado County wine.
Shortly after the Oracle Team USA support team righted the AC45 and assessed damage, Spithill placed second in a fleet race and went on to win the match race final against Team New Zealand, to eventually sweep both the ACWS San Francisco match race and fleet championships.
The ACWS continues in Venice in April and Naples in May. In July, four challengers from Italy, Sweden, New Zealand and Korea will compete on 72-foot-long catamarans (AC72s) for right to challenge Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup in September.
After strong performances by Spithill, and future America’s Cup teammates Ben Ainslie and Russell Coutts on other boats this past week, Oracle Team USA appears to be the odds-on favorite to win the America’s Cup. Of course, things can turn upside down quickly in a sailboat race, as Spithill can attest.