Why Jimmy Spithill pushes to the limit in F1 sailing

Sailing is now an extreme sport. Since 2013, high-tech foiled multihulls and monohulls have been used in the Americas Cup; the famous old contest in which Spithill made a legend by beating the USA by two victories.

And they are also the boat of choice in SailGP; the reason Spithill is back on domestic water this week in Sydney Harbor.

Jimmy Spithill’s US SailGP team trains during a practice session.Credit:Getty

Spithill, who grew up sailing on Pittwater, is the coxswain of Team USA in the Sydney stage of the SailGP World Series, in which eight nations compete on foiling catamarans for $ 1 million in a series of eight. stages around the world.

It was modeled after the Formula One series and all the rockstars of world sailing are involved.

Most of the frontmen are Australian. The man named Sailor of the Year in 2020, Tom Slingsby, helms the Australian boat (which won the inaugural series in 2019) and his compatriot Olympic champion Nathan Outteridge leads the Japanese team. With two innings to go in the 2021-22 season, Australia are ahead of the United States and Japan by one point.

The Australian SailGP Team F50, skippered by Tom Slingsby, flies over Sydney Harbor in 2019.

The Australian SailGP Team F50, skippered by Tom Slingsby, flies over Sydney Harbor in 2019. Credit:

Which means races will be tight on the six-race schedule Friday and Saturday. Particularly on the second day, when the forecast wind over the harbor could push riders to “high end” speeds, explains Spithill.

“The boats will fly,” he adds.

“We are going into really narrow and confined areas. We will be on a narrow race track near Shark Island there and in one of the races Shark Island will be in the middle, like an obstacle. We have side limits, and with eight of these things going around, up to almost 100 km / h, things go fast, races are about 12 minutes long.

“It’s very physical, very fast, and it’s high risk.”

The comparisons to F1 are deliberate and after a captivating end to the motorsport version this week, they are also timely. But Spithill believes that hurtling catamarans are actually the superior product.

“I’m biased, but I actually think it’s better than Formula 1,” he said.

The SailGP F50 catamaran fleet in action during a training race.

The SailGP F50 catamaran fleet in action during a training race.

“The reason we all use the same equipment. When you watch Formula 1, let’s face it, it was a two-car race and the rest of the field isn’t really lucky.

“These boats are the equivalents of Formula 1 on the water, they are constantly improved by the technical team and the design team. But the difference is that everyone gets the upgrades at the same time. There is no technical advantage and the best team will win. There are no excuses.


“The other thing is we share data. Obviously, in the Formula 1 and America’s Cup programs, it’s intellectual property, you hide it. You would never let go of that. But with the Oracle data cloud, everything is open. You can see everything and analyze everything your competition is doing.

The races are centered on Shark Island, but the home advantage will be largely neutralized with so many Australians on the pitch and Englishman Ben Ainslie, who won an Olympic gold medal in Sydney Harbor in 2000. Most of the best dogs have won a Sydney to Hobart or two, too.

“The other thing with the harbor too, it can be a very vibrant place, especially around this area of ​​Shark Island,” Spithill said.

“But at the end of the day, the level in this league is so high and everyone has the same equipment, so any team can win. It’s just a matter of minimizing errors.

“You have eight things loading around the track. Half the time, you’re just trying to avoid them.

SailGP explained


There are five fleet races, with all the teams, and one final, with the top three teams.

Friday: 4 p.m.-6 p.m.

Saturday: 4 p.m.-6 p.m.


Australia – Tom Slingsby (coxswain)

United States – Jimmy Spithill

Japan – Nathan Outteridge

England – Ben Ainslie

New Zealand – Peter Burling

Spain – Phil Robertson

Denmark – Nicolai Sehested

France – Quentin Delapierre

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