Thursday, December 11, 2008

Valencia Sailing talks to James Spithill

James Spithill needs no introduction. The Australian match race maestro is in Puerto Calero, racing in the RC44 Gold Cup at the helm of CEEREF, Igor Lah's Slovenian boat. He clearly dominated the first round robin of the event's match races yesterday, winning 5 out of 5 races, despite having the jib falling apart in the first race.

We talked to Spithill earlier this morning on the issue of the BMW Oracle trimaran and the team's first phase of sea trials in San Diego.

Valencia Sailing: What are your general impressions from the BMW Oracle trimaran?
James Spithill: It’s awesome. It’s the coolest thing I have ever sailed; it’s simply an incredibly powerful sailing machine. The whole trimaran, multihull world is another world and there has never been built something similar to this boat, with this power-to-weight ratio. It’s very exciting to steer a boat like this.

Valencia Sailing: Did you have much multihull experience before sailing that trimaran?
James Spithill: No, very little. As soon as we knew that it looked like it was going to go into a multihull challenge I started to get into some racing. Before the boat was built we spent time on the Groupama trimaran, doing some racing there but I come from a monohull background, the whole sailing team really. That’s why we have Franck Cammas and some of his guys involved.

Valencia Sailing: Was it a steep learning curve?
James Spithill: Really steep, especially for me driving because in a boat like that you can get into trouble very quickly. You have to get used to the notion of always being a step ahead and even simpler things like sail changes are different. Again, you can run into trouble and to sail the boat fast you have to be on the edge a lot of the time. Now I feel comfortable and I look forward to sailing again.

James Spithill leads the match race series, unbeaten. Puerto Calero, 10 December 2008. Photo copyright Nico Martinez

Valencia Sailing: How long did you sail the boat in San Diego?
James Spithill: We've been there for two months and we split helming about 50/50 with Franck since he had commitments with Groupama. It was fantastic because I could speak with him and learn a lot. It was nice having with us the depth of experience Franck, Bruno and the rest of the Groupama team have. In addition our design team has a lot of experience.

Valencia Sailing: What type of wind conditions have you had during that period?
James Spithill: They varied. Everything up to 18 knots with big sea waves at times. We pushed the boat hard, especially towards the end of the session, but we obviously haven’t been going stupid because we have time. If something goes wrong people can really get hurt.

Valencia Sailing: So, you really need those helmets we see in the pictures.
James Spithill: You do. We had a couple of things break, some blocks and stuff like that. Don’t forget you have tremendous loads on all the gear and the helmets make you feel a little better.

Valencia Sailing: What boat speeds have you reached, if it’s not a secret?
James Spithill: No, why should it be a secret? We are getting up towards 40 knots.

Valencia Sailing: With what wind speed?
James Spithill: We still haven’t really pushed the boat that hard. The fastest point of sail is around 100 degrees true wind angle reaching, reefed and two sails. We haven’t done a whole lot of that because we have been mainly focusing on upwind and downwind. You know, we are not in a rush to set a new speed record.

Valencia Sailing: What about crew size? Have you decided what the optimal number of sailors is?
James Spithill: We usually had between 14 and 17 people but it’s a tough question what the optimal is. We still haven’t decided as we haven’t done many maneuvers yet. As I said, we have mainly focused on getting to know the boat and doing straight-line sailing.

James Spithill leads the match race series, unbeaten. Puerto Calero, 10 December 2008. Photo copyright Nico Martinez

Valencia Sailing: What kind of match race should we expect with such kind of boats? Is it going to be very different from what we had for example last year in Valencia with the conventional AC yachts?
James Spithill: It will be completely different. Match racing in the V5 AC boats was about the other guy being right behind you, breathing down you neck. The boats were like stuck together through the whole race. In this type of racing, except for the start line where you get together, once you start there will be a big separation and no close racing. You might still get some passing but the boats won’t stay together for long. It’s just a different type of racing.

Valencia Sailing: If it finally comes down to that, Alinghi has the right of choosing the venue of the match. They can pick a light-wind venue or something like we had yesterday here in Puerto Calero, 25 knots and waves. Is your multihull optimized for a particular wind range?
James Spithill: They obviously have a big advantage of knowing the venue but take for example Valencia. I’ve been there for 4 years and every summer was completely different. One summer was windy, one summer was light, so even though you can say Valencia is usually 12 to 14 knots, it can be completely different. We think that they can focus on one area but they will still have to be able to cover the other ranges. We feel we have a good all-around boat and depending on the venue Alinghi chooses, we will have to push towards one area.

Valencia Sailing: Politics apart, would you rather match race on these giant multihulls or the conventional AC boats?
James Spithill: It will be interesting to try the multihulls, just for the fact they have been built. I really enjoyed the last event and from day one all BMW Oracle wanted was a multi-challenge monohull event with everyone involved but we are not going to do it unless we get a fair set of rules. It's hard enough to win as it is. We want to race, get out there on the water but it has to be with a decent set of rules. We obviously want to get that on track but I would still love to see these two things race. When you see them sailing it will be awesome.

Valencia Sailing: But is it going to be interesting for spectators?
James Spithill: It will be hard for spectators on the water because they will not be able to keep up, unlike the version 5 AC boats. You might be able to follow these but it will be hard. I think that the best way to watch the races will be on TV, if we get some decent footage.

Valencia Sailing: Last year you gave BMW Oracle a serious beating in the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals. How does it feel to be the helmsman of the team now?
James Spithill: [Laughs] It's funny how things work out!! It's really a new team. Russell has assembled a fantastic group of people throughout the whole team. There are obviously some people from last time but it's a good fresh start. The most important fact is that we have probably the best America's Cup sailor at the top of the group, leading the team. That's exactly the team I want to be involved in.

Valencia Sailing: Last but not least, you are leading the match race round robin here at the Puerto Calero RC44 Gold Cup unbeaten. What's in store for today's second round robin?
James Spithill: I don’t know, we were pretty lucky yesterday, we had a breakage in race one and just managed to win but it was 5 tough races nevertheless. Given how shifty it is, there are a lot of passing lanes and anything could happen. Still, it will be good and fun sailing with these boats and under these great conditions.

The BMW ORacle compound on Wednesday morning. San Diego, 10 December 2008. Photo copyright Goli

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home