Jimmy Spithill’s top 4 lessons learned from America’s Cup testing in 2016

Practice makes perfect

The year before the America’s Cup is always a critical time. In many ways, it’s as important as the year to come. This is when we do the hard work on the design and development side to ensure we have the best possible equipment to take into battle this summer in Bermuda.

In the new model, America’s Cup teams have to be prepared to run two parallel programs: design and development on one hand, and racing in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series on the other.

The practice we get from the racing is important; it’s an opportunity to work on communication on board under race conditions and it’s also a fantastic team-building exercise. And not just for the sailors — the entire operation is put under the stress of competition. So for the shore crew and support staff, this is critical preparation ahead of the racing in Bermuda.

Of course, this time around, the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series offered more than just practice. Valuable points were at stake — bonus points awarded to the top two finishers to carry forward into the next stage of the event.

We finished up second overall — our team is disappointed we didn’t come out on top as that was our goal. But Ben Ainslie and the Brits won the final event in Fukuoka and they sailed well. I always say the scoreboard doesn’t lie. They deserved to win. Still, we learned some valuable lessons.

On the right day, anyone can win

We know that we’re looking at a very tough group of challengers. We have seen every single team win races over this series and I think everyone has a chance of winning in Bermuda. It’s been great for all the teams to be able to put on a show for the fans, to connect with our audience, to test ourselves under pressure.

We would’ve liked to have taken the two bonus points for winning, but Ainslie got those, so we came away with one point for our second-place finish. And, man, did we have to fight hard for it! You could certainly see the challengers start to work together on the last day of racing in Fukuoka because the last thing they wanted was for us to be taking any points at all.

We did it though, and it meant that Emirates Team New Zealand ended up with nothing, which is huge. Obviously, ETNZ won’t be too happy, but as you might already know about me, there’s nothing I like more than beating the Kiwis!

On a more serious note, I do think that because of how tight the racing is and the level everyone’s at, these points will matter more than most people realise when it comes to crunch time next year.

Progress never stops

With the end of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series, we pack away the one-design AC45F boats and turn our focus 100 percent to the America’s Cup Class.

These new boats are going to be absolute weapons. We will have ours sailing for the first time pretty early on in the new year. The technology, innovation and craftsmanship that have gone into these boats is like nothing I’ve seen before. And the demands they make on the sailors — especially the all-important grinders — is just incredible. Let’s just say I’m happy to be driving the boat!

Our focus in the next few months will be to get the new boat completed, with all of the systems online and then to get busy on development. You can never stand still in this game because you can bet the opposition isn’t.

We will spend as much time on the water as possible, refining the systems, getting race-ready and then putting together our playbook. While straight-line speed is going to be important, I think the America’s Cup will be won in the manoeuvres and transitions. Who can tack better? Who can get up on the foils more quickly in light conditions? Who has the confidence to be aggressive in the pre-starts? We’ll need a playbook for all of this, and our coach, Philippe Presti, will make sure this is a priority.

Side projects keep the mind sharp

Looking back, I feel proud of what our team accomplished in 2016. I think we have the boat, the crew and the support we need to be successful. On a personal note, I closed out my sailing in 2016 with a bit of a wild ride, by joining Red Bull and Team Falcon on a 13.7 metre F4 foiling catamaran for a run from New York to Bermuda.

I’ve always found that to push myself and re-stimulate the mind, I need to get away and do other projects. I’ve really enjoyed the offshore sailing; it’s been fun. Though for the trip from New York to Bermuda, we bit off more than we could chew.

The goal was to really push the envelope on offshore foiling. If you look at the sport, that’s where we’re headed, from our America’s Cup boats to the 18 metre monohulls that raced around the world in the 2016-17 Vendée Globe. But nobody has really pushed fully foiling offshore multihulls yet and that’s what we wanted to take a crack at.

The forecast looked pretty good, but it really kicked up while we were out there, much bigger wind and waves than what was predicted. We were way out of our comfort zone, but we dug in and managed to get through it.

I don’t mind admitting that it was pretty scary at times — very big sea state, running under bare poles and approaching Bermuda at night. Even for Volvo Ocean Race alumni like Shannon Falcone and Rome Kirby, it was pretty intense. But I’ve got to say Emily Nagel was awesome. She’s part of the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup team for Bermuda and it was amazing how she responded to the challenge. If she’s what the next generation is going to be like, then I’m going to have to work harder than ever to keep my job!

And as much as it was good to push the limits and test myself, I think I’ll dial that aspect back a little bit for the next six months as we hone in on the America’s Cup in Bermuda. Gunning for a three-peat with Oracle Team USA is exciting enough.

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