Ocean Magazine : 4 November December 2005
112 | ocean THE YACHTING REPORT The cricket Ashes might have gone to dust for Australia, but there was some cause to celebrate in sailing circles when our own James Spithill was declared the new ISAF Match Racing World Champion. Bad weather on the final day saw racing finish prematurely, a bitter-sweet situation for Spithill because while he was more than happy to take the crown, he was also champing at the bit to meet arch rival Ed Baird in the final to avenge the defeat he suffered at the hands of the American two years ago. Going into the final Spithill and Baird had the same number of points from the semifinals, so with no racing then possible it was the one who had more points from the round robins who was the winner. The win was another step in the ladder to the top for the very talented Spithill, who now finds himself as skipper for the Luna Rossa Italian America's Cup challenge in Valencia in 2007. For Spithill the glamour associated with this upper echelon of international sailing he's experiencing seems a long way from being brought up in a small cottage on the shore of an isolated and bushy bay on Pittwater, north of Sydney. But living in such an environment, where the daily commute to school was by boat and sailboats were his playthings, made it inevitable that he would mould his first big childhood dream -- to sail in a Sydney- Hobart race -- into reality. That was to be his first big step towards America's Cup competition. Life's jigsaw started coming together when he was named the NSW Youth Sailor of the Year. At the presentation ceremony he was introduced to the doyen of Australian offshore racing, Syd Fischer, a man who has given so many of Australia's top sailors their entrée into ocean racing. Their conversation quickly turned to the Hobart and within minutes Fischer had invited Spithill to race aboard Ragamuffin. The year was 1998 and the Hobart race would be an experience many offshore sailors would prefer to forget. A maelstrom of horrendous proportions descended on the fleet and created conditions so extreme that tragedy could not be averted. Six lives were lost and five yachts sank in a storm that randomly delivered insurmountable breaking waves that were between 60ft and 80ft high. "I was seasick, so seasick," Spithill recalled. "But oddly enough, while it was frightening in some ways I wasn't overly concerned for our safety. I knew that I was with probably the best team out there, the guys with the most experience in the race, and that if anyone was going to get through then we would." Ragamuffin was one of only 44 yachts to complete the course, and at the end James Spithill could claim a third place on corrected time in a Hobart race in his résumé. By racing aboard Ragamuffin the door was opened for Spithill to become Syd Fischer's helmsman for his Young Australia America's Cup challenge in 2000. And from there there's been no stopping him. At 19 years of age he entered the Cup's 150-year old history book as the youngest skipper ever of a Cup contender. In the 2002/2003 Cup he became helmsman for the powerful Seattle-based One World America's Cup syndicate. His efforts there led to America's Cup luminary and one time Cup skipper, Bruno Trouble, declaring him to be the man who 'will, one day, win the America's Cup'. AUSTRALIA'S SPITHILL NEW ISAF WORLD MATCH RACING CHAMP WHARINGTON AND THE VOLVO OCEAN RACE Grant Wharington has yet again shown that he finds it easier to go through problems rather than around them. He just doesn't know how to walk away. This time it's with his entry for the Volvo Ocean Race, which starts in Vigo, Spain, in early November. With time for major sponsorship having evaporated Wharington has opted to press on regardless. He has had to stand down his professional crew simply because the funds weren't there to pay them, so now it's a bare bones effort for the first ever all- Australian entry. Wharington said: "...the yacht looks every inch of the high performance racer we expected, it's an absolute glamour...we will now continue with a much diluted team, due to lack of funds. "We have entered the Volvo Ocean Race 2005 - 2006, and we will go to the start and do what we can with the resources we have. We are determined to make the best of it."
5 January February 2006
3 September October 2005