SailTime Australia’s blog US reclaims America’s Cup with a Sydney Newport Connection

WHEN Australia II won the America's Cup in 1983, countless Australian kids dreamed of getting on board and doing the same.

One of them, a young boy with wet feet courtesy of a home in Sydney's Elvina Bay with water-only access, was more serious than most. James Spithill could already sail and, within a few years, began to race with great success.

Then he broke the news to his father. ''I remember it vividly,'' Arthur Spithill said. ''When he was nine years old, we were talking casually about what he wanted to do in his life, and he said 'I want to win the America's Cup.' The funny thing is I humoured him and said, 'That would be terrific son, why not.'''

Yesterday, he did it.

At just 30, James Spithill, skippered the 27.4 metre BMW Oracle to a 2-0 victory in a monstrous wing-sailed trimaran – a victory that returns the America's Cup to the USA for the first time in 18 years but owes much to the Australian yachting community.

At the time of his vow, Spithill was racing Manly Juniors, a 2.6m craft, a world removed in scale and cost with the racing machines of the Cup.

''The boys are just absolutely lit up,'' Spithill said as the Oracle team – backed by software tycoon Larry Ellison – celebrated their victory over Alinghi at the Spanish port of Valencia.

After a bitter legal battle, Oracle proved itself far beyond the reach of Alinghi, winning race one by 15 minutes, 28 seconds – the biggest winning margin since the 1988 cup when the USA's Stars & Stripes catamaran defeated New Zealand's KZ1 monohull. Sunday's victory was by a more restrained margin of 5.26.

The winning margins emphasised the technical superiority of Ellison's boat with its 68m wing sail, which is able to power the craft at three times the speed of the wind.

Spithill paid tribute to his rivals. ''What a fantastic race," he said. ''Firstly, I would really like to congratulate Alinghi for bouncing back today. They were coming out there swinging. We knew they were a champion team, and they showed that again today. Full credit to them, it was one hell of a boat race. I can tell you I enjoyed every minute of it.''

Spithill, who obtained his pilot's licence recently while at home in Sydney to better understand the craft, described BMW Oracle as ''just such an awesome tool for racing''.

BMW Oracle's solid vertical wingspan is more than twice the length of the wing of a Boeing 747. ''When it looked like we were going to pull the trigger on the wing, I thought, 'Well, I will try to get my pilot's licence,''' Spithill said recently.

''It was very interesting. It is amazing actually how many people in sailing have their pilot's licences. It is the same principles, it is all about lift and drag, and it is just another way of thinking about how to make yourself go as quickly as you can on the water.''

Spithill has been thinking about that most of his life – and putting his ideas into practice with great efficiency. Chosen as skipper – the youngest in America's Cup history – of Syd Fischer's Young Australia in 2000, he then led OneWorld to the semi-finals of the Louis Vuitton series, which decides the challenger for the America's Cup, in 2003.

Then in 2007, Spithill steered Italy's Luna Rossa to a 5-1 victory over Oracle in the semi-finals of the challenger series before taking the helm for the US team.

But one part of young Spithill's vision remains unfulfilled, his father acknowledged.''He said it [winning the America's Cup] for Australia – of course. That's still the dream, in the big picture that's the dream,'' his father recounted.

Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club vice-commodore John Ellis said Spithill had cut his teeth sailing in the Manly Juniors before moving up the ranks. ''Through our youth development scheme James got his first exposure to match racing and we found he excelled at that,'' Ellis said. ''He was always very prominent, always at the top end of whatever competition he was in.''

Spithill isn't the only Newport connection to this year's America's Cup. Ellis's son, Brett, a design engineer with Alinghi, is another former club junior. Alinghi mast builder Mark Allanson and design co-ordinator Grant Simmer are both club members – as is Richard Slater, an expert on match-racing rules who was involved in negotiations on behalf of BMW Oracle as the two syndicates sought a compromise to their legal battles.


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