While the highly anticipated Season 2 of the SailGP series was scuttled under the dark cloud of the COVID pandemic, there’s been ample time for the upstart professional sailing series to advance its planned upgrades, like new wings for all the teams and new venues for the fans, like the scheduled season kickoff in Bermuda in April 2021.
There’s also the addition of a few top-shelf teams from New Zealand (Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are at it again) and Denmark (Nicolai Sehested in charge), and a new guy in charge over at United States SailGP Team—one Jimmy Spithill.
Jimmy what? Yes, it’s true. Spithill, currently on one of the two wheels onboard Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team’s AC75, has been tapped to drag the American team out of basement, replacing Rome Kirby as CEO and helmsman. Kirby is said to move forward a spot, into the flight controllers seat, and Spithill will fill out the rest of squad in the meantime.
Kirby and Spithill go way back from their Oracle Team USA days in San Francisco and Bermuda, as does Spithill with SailGP’s Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison, who no doubt tapped the America’s Cup winning helmsman to help the struggling U.S. team.
“Russell, Larry and I obviously spoke early on about SailGP, before it started and I got involved with Luna Rossa,” Spithill says. “I like this style of racing and I was really impressed with Season 1, so I want to be part of it. I like competing, there are great teams and the boat is awesome.”
With a new season and a reboot for the event, as well as a fresh start for every team, there’s no sense looking at past results, Spithill says. “What Rome did was pretty impressive. It was a young team with some good races, but yeah, they lacked consistency, and I really feel that this next season will be very challenging for everyone. The level has gone up, there’s a lot of really guys, and everyone’s spent a lot of time in the boat, so it will be tough.”
Pressed to hint at who else he’d like to bring to the squad, Spithill declined—several times—but don’t expect him to show up with a B team, especially with the America’s Cup ending a month before the Bermuda SailGP opener.
“There’s a lot of talent out there and the goal of this team is to get the U.S. back into being a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with. The UK and Kiwis and the Aussies have stepped ahead on the world sailing stage, so we’re hoping to use this project to get the next generation going and create a bit of a succession plan so the U.S. can go out there and compete with these strong nations.
“If you look at high-performance racing, it doesn’t get better than SailGP,” he says. “The innovation and development continue and the boats are so much better than what we had in Bermuda [for the 35 America’s Cup]. “Fortunately, Rome already has key people set up behind the team and that allows me to focus on the Cup for now. I’ll be checking in regularly and trying to progress some of the commercial deals in terms of the U.S. team and get ready for Bermuda.”