Jimmy Spithill: Who I Am, What I Do

Published on April 14th, 2016

America’s Cup defense skipper Jimmy Spithill told Esquire about rivalry, victory and how competition drives him…

Skippering a boat is a bit like a game of rugby: you often have get involved in doing things that aren’t your job, regardless of your position.

Having a mix of nationalities on board the boat helps.If you are all from the same culture, then you have similar ideas on to how to tackle a problem, even though it might not be the best way. By having Italians, Australians, Americans working together, you end up with different, and often better, solutions.

Crews tend to be loyal to a fault. Whereas it is very common in other team sports to make changes in personnel, it is a place where sailing lags a little bit behind. Little tweaks can improve the dynamic of the rest of the team so if someone doesn’t work out, they can be replaced.

‘Pitbull’ was the nickname that the Italians gave me in 2007 when I was skippering the Prada team. We had a slower boat going into the semi-final, and the only way for us to compete was to take a lot of risks and be very aggressive, especially at the start line. The Italian fans are really passionate about sailing, it’s like a religion to them.

Everyone wants to beat the defending champion. No question about it. The defender has a target. I get it, I was a challenger once.

The old America’s Cup format was boring. If you could get to the first mark in the lead, then 85 percent of the time nothing would change. It’s now different with the introduction of hydrofoiling yachts, because there are so many mistakes you can make, and you are punished for every little one. It makes for much more exciting racing. People want to see manoeuvres.

I am obsessed with winning, as is [Team Land Rover BAR skipper] Ben Ainslie, and that’s a great thing. We used to be teammates and I know him well. I think that makes it even more competitive — we’d do anything to beat each other.

You have to be a fit guy to race today. If you look at the past America’s Cups you’ve got people who look like they’re straight out of an armchair! Today it’s different. It’s an attitude, a state of mind, it’s a requirement to be a great athlete.

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