Jimmy Spithill: Anything can happen
Published on February 24th, 2023
United States SailGP Team skipper Jimmy Spithill takes a look back at the latest wild and weather-affected SailGP round in Australia.
If you didn’t catch the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix in Sydney on February 18-19… well, you have a bit of catching up to do!
In typical SailGP fashion, it was a weekend of insane, high-speed racing with plenty of action – and drama – on and off the water, as we returned to what, for my money, is one of the best venues on the planet for fast and exciting sailing.
Saturday was up there with the best days of racing we’ve seen in SailGP. Epic competition, big breeze, and world-class atmosphere from the shore – and it was a good day for us at United States SailGP Team.
We started strong in very tricky and shifting conditions. It’s difficult when you come up with a plan and strategy, and then the breeze changes just before racing and you have to switch it up on the fly. However, we responded well and took a couple of second places to secure runner-up position overall.
I’m so pleased for the team, as we’ve worked really hard looking into the data and reflecting on our performances recently. We don’t have the luxury that some of the other SailGP teams have in being able to stay together between events, so we spend a lot of time doing analysis and debriefing online. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact, and Philippe has done a great job coming up with a different strategy to combat this.
For a moment in Sydney, though, I did wonder if our luck might turn at all. In training a couple of days before the event, we experienced another big setback as Erika Reineke broke her leg and Hans Henken had his lip stitched together following a fall.
Ironically, Erika’s is almost an identical injury to that suffered by our wing trimmer Paul Campbell-James around 18 months ago, but the circumstances onboard couldn’t have been much more different.
Back when CJ picked up his injury, we were both thrown out of the boat in a capsize and everything was pretty dramatic, but this time we were straight-line sailing, setting up for a tack and it sounds like it was as silly as a new pair of shoes getting caught in the trampoline, causing Erika to go over and break her fibula.
I have to say, though, I was really impressed by how calm she stayed through the whole process – and it says everything about her character that within a few hours she was strapped up and back in the team base cracking jokes with the rest of the team.
As well as being one of the brightest talents to come out of U.S. sailing in the last few years, Erika has an infectious enthusiasm and is important to the team. To be honest, losing her left us pretty deflated. Fortunately, Hans was stitched up and straight back with us for racing and as you all witnessed, did an incredible job in tough conditions.
With Erika ruled out, we brought in Aussie Lucy Copeland as a replacement and, man, she stepped up. Within a few minutes of jumping on the boat she fit in seamlessly – as if she’d been with the team for a season. I think it’s a real testament to the Women’s Pathway Program that SailGP has developed that we have such a depth of female talent across the fleet.
I have to say congrats to another one of our former ‘replacement’ sailors Amélie Riou – who stepped in to help us out during Saint-Tropez, when Steph Roble got injured – and France SailGP Team on a clean sweep of three wins from three in Sydney.
If there was a trophy for Rookies of the Year, it would for sure go to Quentin Delapierre and his French team. I’m impressed by their culture: whether they’re going through good times or bad, they stick together and communicate well. That’s the sign of a solid team and they’re really showing their potential this season.
A lot of people ask about preparation for SailGP, but honestly, some of the conditions that we faced on Saturday are pretty tough to train for. Just ask Great Britain SailGP Team’s Matt Gotrel, who plunged through the fairings on the bow of the boat and was held on by just his safety harness.
To watch a 100kg grinder get bounced around at 70kph like a rag-doll is insane. Thankfully he’s all good and when they got him back onboard and asked if he was OK, he replied: “Keep racing.” What an animal! That’s the mentality in SailGP – go hard or go home.
I’ve never really seen anything like that before, but if we thought that moment was the drama done for the day, we were mistaken. You might have seen some of the footage going around of the 50-knot gusts causing damage to the site and boat equipment.
Hats off to the SailGP Tech Team, who work so hard and do an awesome job day in and day out, working around the clock to get us on and off the water safely, on time and get us back in the race when we need a repair, even if it takes all night. They’re some of the real heroes of the SailGP operation because we really couldn’t go racing without them.
I don’t think anyone expected those conditions to develop quite as quickly as they did and it was just really unfortunate timing. We all pitched in and helped get the Australia wingsail down safely, before trying to get control of Canada’s wing, which was on the crane.
It was all hands on deck, trying to maintain and stabilize the wing in 100kph breeze. Ultimately, Mother Nature won.
It meant that there was some damage on site, which caused the event to be cut short before Day 2. It’s a shame, but safety has to come first and it’s just something we all have to learn from.
We have a great bunch of people here and I have to say that in all my years racing, SailGP as a collective has the best interaction I’ve ever seen. The racing on the water is really cut-throat, but ashore, it’s a really positive and collaborative atmosphere.
I think it’s because we’re doing something that has never been done before, in terms of the speed and the level of competition, and because we all race one-design boats and share data. We’re all really open and want to see this league succeed.
Whenever we face challenges like this, we take the learnings and face them together, unite and solve the issues the best we can.
It’s great news that, upon further inspection, the damage to the fleet’s wingsails doesn’t seem to be as severe as first thought – and we will go racing as planned in New Zealand next month, before heading to San Francisco for the grand final and our first home event in almost a year. Two big chances for us to push for that overall podium place.
Mathematically we can still make it and this weekend showed that in SailGP literally anything can happen.
Australia Sail Grand Prix Final Results
1. France (Quintin Delapierre), 1-1-1
2. United States (Jimmy Spithill), 2-2-5
3. Australia (Tom Slingsby), 3-4-6
4. Great Britain (Ben Ainslie), 6-6-2
5. Denmark (Nicolai Sehested), 4-8-3
6. New Zealand (Peter Burling), 9-3-4
7. Canada (Phil Robertson), 5-7-7
8. Spain (Diego Botin), 8-5-9
9. Switzerland (Sebastien Schneiter), 7-9-8
Season Three Standings (after nine of 11 events)
1. Australia (Tom Slingsby), 76 points
2. New Zealand (Peter Burling), 64 points
3. France (Quintin Delapierre), 63 points
4. Great Britain (Ben Ainslie), 61 points
5. Denmark (Nicolai Sehested), 57 points
6. United States (Jimmy Spithill), 52 points
7. Canada (Phil Robertson), 49 points
8. Spain (Jordi Xammar/Diego Botin), 27 points
9. Switzerland (Sebastien Schneiter), 25 points
• Spain SailGP Team: Docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Plymouth
• Switzerland SailGP Team: Docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Saint-Tropez
• United Stated SailGP Team: Docked four points in Season Championship for eight-point penalty at Saint-Tropez
• New Zealand SailGP Team: Docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Dubai; Docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Singapore
2022-23 SailGP Season 3 Schedule
May 14-15, 2022 – Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess
June 18-19, 2022 – United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier
July 30-31, 2022 – Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth
August 19-20, 2022 – ROCKWOOL Denmark Sail Grand Prix | Copenhagen
September 10-11, 2022 – France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
September 24-25, 2022 – Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía – Cádiz
November 12-13, 2022 – Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas
January 14-15, 2023 – Singapore Sail Grand Prix
February 18-19, 2023 – Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney
March 18-19, 2023 – New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch
May 6-7, 2023 – United States Sail Grand Prix | San Francisco (Season 3 Grand Final)
Format for 2022-23 SailGP events:
• Teams compete in identical F50 catamarans.
• Each event runs across two days.
• There are three qualifying races each day for all nine teams.*
• The top three teams from qualifying advance to a final race to be crowned event champion and earn the largest share of the $300,000 prize money to be split among the top three teams.
• The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race – a winner-takes-all match race for the $1m prize.
* Qualifying schedule increased from five to six races at France SailGP.
For competition documents, click here.
Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe. Rival national teams compete in identical F50 catamarans for event prize money as the season culminates with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race.