Jimmy Spithill is a three-time America’s Cup winner who is back winning major races after being on the receiving end of a defeat at the last Cup in Bermuda.
The Australian is now back at Luna Rossa, the team he raced the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup with, and helped them clinch victory in Valencia at the final 52 Super Series regatta of the season.
Here, Spithill talks about revenge, Prince Harry and his military passion…
It’s like your America’s Cup journey has almost come back full circle with you rejoining Luna Rossa. Is it good to be back?
It’s fun to be back here and you’re right in saying it’s come full circle. One of the big changes being with an Italian team in any sport is that the whole nation gets behind you. For them, sport is like a religion from football to sailing. Already, the support from fans has been great so that’s pretty cool.
What do you make of the new boats and format? Is it mixed feelings in the sense that, had it stayed the same, Team Oracle USA would still be going and you’d still be there, or are you simply embracing the new challenge?
What I’d say about the new boats is they’re extremely innovative and they’re pushing technology right on the edge, which is a big part of the America’s Cup. But because it’s a brand-new boat, the costs are much higher, so for a new team that can be pretty daunting. Only time will tell to understand how many teams will be on the starting line.
Luna Rossa is the challenger of record. How confident are you that you can add yet another America’s Cup victory to your CV with the team?
I’ve come here because I want another shot at winning it. I had 10 of the best years of my life at Oracle and I still consider myself good mates with Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts. It was an amazing campaign and I learned a lot. But I’m relishing working with another group of people and, as I said, I want another shot at winning it.
They say you learn far more from your losses than your successes in sport. What lessons did you learn from Bermuda both good and bad to build on for the future?
That’s so true – defeat is nothing but an education. It’s important to be honest and candid with the people in front of you. After a defeat is the best time to learn. I spend a lot of time thinking about mistakes and defeats, I hardly think about the victories. I hate letting down my teammates and you carry that burden as I was the skipper and I take full responsibility. The two main things I learned from the last Cup was 1) we were too conservative and 2) I didn’t go with my instincts enough on and off the water.
You are a very driven individual. How much is the current drive motivated by revenge on Emirates Team New Zealand and the loss in Bermuda?
I’m not going to lie to you, I want payback and revenge. That’s a big part of it. I love competition and they’re the best out there right now. For me, this is another opportunity to go against the best.
What do you make of the other challengers? Your former crew mate Sir Ben Ainslie appears to be building a strong challenge with strong financial backing…
Ben’s already made a lot of good decisions in this campaign. During the last campaign, they were off the pace and made bad decisions, but they’ve hired some very good people. I think they’ll be very strong this time, and they have more money than anyone else.
What does the America’s Cup mean to you? Is it for you still the pinnacle of boat racing?
It really is my life, and it’s been my life for a long time. What a dream, I get to work with some awesome people from designers, boat builders and the sailors. It’s probably the most addictive thing I’ve ever done.
The boats look like they’re going to be incredibly physical for this edition of the Cup. Does that, in some ways, negate having female sailors on board or not?
I think it comes down to the person. I’m a big believer that you never judge a person by what they look like or where they’re from. It comes down to performance and results. A good example is my friend Anna Tunnicliffe, a sailing Gold Medallist, who was in the top 10 of the Crossfit Games. Power to weight ratio is huge in this America’s Cup and hers is obviously great so I can’t see why someone like Anna can’t be involved.
What about the iconic Sydney-Hobart race. As an Australian, how important is that event to you and obviously winning it?
It’s a classic race that you just grow up with as a kid in Australia. When you’re getting bashed by the southerly, though, there are moments you’re thinking “I could be on the couch watching Test match cricket!” But what I love about sailing is that there are so many different discplines, different to any other sport out there. I always think it’s important to do different types of sailing, it changes the pace and stimulates ideas.
You’re also involved with the Invictus Games. How did that come about?
I’ve always had the greatest respect for the military and we all owe them an unpayable debt both past and present. I’m honoured to be playing a part in the sailing in Sydney for the Invictus Games. It’s got the best stadium in the world with Sydney Harbour. It’s going to be incredible.
The event obviously comes with royal approval. It’s too late for an invite to the Royal wedding but have you got to know Prince Harry?
I’m a ginger and so is he, so we’ve got a common bond. You learn very young in the school yard as gingers that you have to stick together!