By Gary Jobson, President
National Sailing Hall of Fame
September 18, 2013
Imagine what is going on in the mind of Oracle Team USA's Australian skipper, Jimmy Spithill. His team is down 8-1. One more loss and the America's Cup moves on to New Zealand for the second time in 18 years. You might think the pressure is enormous, but I hope his focus is simply on winning the next race. He cannot think about the final result, the consequences, the disappointment, or his next gig. Spithill needs to win the next start, then get ahead, and find a way to stay ahead. If he does that, he can move on to the next race. Skipper Spithill has many tools at his disposal including a boat that is even in speed with his rival, the world's most successful Olympic sailing champion as a tactician, a crew that is working their guts out, a design team and shore crew that keeps improving the speed of the boat, and the support of a very motivated owner. Spithill can end up on the long list of losing America's Cup skippers, or make the biggest comeback in the history of sailing. It is all on his shoulders. And, guess what? We get to watch him go into battle in the biggest race(s) of his life.
In 1983 Spithill's countrymen were down 1-3 against Dennis Conner in the America's Cup. The tenacious Aussies won three straight to take the Cup down under. In 1920, the American defender was down 0-2 behind Shamrock IV in a best of 5 series. The Americans won the last three races. In 1934,Harold Vanderbilt's Rainbow was down 0-2 in a best of seven series. The USA was behind in Race Three. But clever tactics by Rainbow's tactician, Sherman Hoyt, helped Rainbow take the lead on the final leg of the race. The British never won another race. Rainbow prevailed 4-2. The stories of sports heroics are the stuff of legend. If Spithill wins a race, and then another, and another the pressure will shift and put Emirates Team New Zealand in an increasingly defensive position. Again, it will be great fun to watch.
Historically, September 18 has been a big day in the America' Cup. In 1930, Vanderbilt's Enterprise defeated Shamrock V 4-0 to successfully defend. In 1967, Intrepid swept Australia's Dame Pattie 4-0. Three of Intrepid's crew would later become Commodores of the New York Yacht Club: Skipper, Bus Mosbacher; bowman, George Hinman; and grinder, David Elwell. And in 1977, Ted Turner and our crew aboard Courageous defeated Australia 4-0. Our team stays in close contact. We have a reunion every five years with full attendance. How many teams can say that?
There is considerable talk around the San Francisco waterfront about the format and nature of the next America's Cup. Of course, no one from New Zealand will utter a word about anything on the horizon. I will have a full discussion about the future of the America's Cup in the November issue of Sailing World magazine.
I am not sure I should admit this, but I have been present at some part of the America's Cup dating back to 1962 when I was 12 years old. This event is in my bones. I have been a member of five Cup crews over the years. To this day I am grateful that Ted Turner gave me a chance to be his tactician. Winning in 1977 was one of the greatest moments in the lives of our crew. The 34th Defense is the ninth time I have served as a commentator on television. The story lines never cease to amaze me. The behind the scenes production of our 92-person team has been special. Every day we work hard to improve. Covering sailing is not an exact science. Most every one on the team is an active sailor. The aerial photography, on board cameras and microphones, amazing graphics, steady water view shots have been breathtaking. How cool it is for Todd Harris, Ken Read and I to interpret what is going on out on the water. Thanks are in order to Oracle Corporation's Larry Ellison for making this production a reality.
A few comments on Race Eleven: New Zealand skipper, Dean Barker, decisively won the start. The Kiwis held a slim three-length lead through most of the race. On Leg Three, OTUSA drew even two times, but just could not pass. The one moment of hope for the USA squad came on Leg Four. In 20 knots of wind, New Zealand sailed straight down the center of the course. In contrast, the USA sailed on the very North edge of the course. The wind headed OTUSA about 20 degrees, allowing Spithill to steer a far lower course toward the final turning gate. Barker did not get the wind shift and had to jibe to protect his lead. It was even. The USA had a chance. But, just eight lengths before the cross the wind shifted back, forcing the USA to steer high of the mark. New Zealand's tactician, Ray Davies, jibed on the lay line. When the wind shift arrived, both boats had to sail low to get to the mark. NZL was closer and rounded only two lengths ahead. From there it was a parade over to the finish. Larry Ellison's team is now one race from losing.
Occasionally I am reminded that words count. After racing was postponed on Tuesday, I casually remarked while on the air to my partner Ken Read that I had lined up three Lasers to go sailing that afternoon, and that we should get our on air host, Todd Harris, on the water. Within hours, the Laser Class President, Tracy Usher, and several Laser greats, including Chris Boome, Russ Silvestri, Nick Burke and Ron Witzel, were lining up boats. One of them even suggested that they should invite OTUSA's Tom Slingsby to join us. Tom has won the Laser Worlds and an Olympic Gold medal last summer. Ken and I talked about showing up with a foiling Laser.
The 34th Defense of the America's Cup might conclude on Thursday with a New Zealand victory in one of two scheduled races. If Jimmy Spithill can dig down deep, find his inner strength and win on Thursday, he might be able to start running the table. It would be the comeback of all time. What fun it will be to watch.
Our coverage continues LIVE on the NBC Sports Network at 4 pm ET, (1 pm PT).
All photos except this last group shot are courtesy of photographer Steven Tsuchiya.