Oracle Team USA’s quest for an America’s Cup three-peat in Bermuda next weekend will begin with Australian Jimmy Spithill at the helm.
Then there’s the Australian who claimed Olympic gold in London and backed it up four years later with a silver medal in Rio. Yet for the duration of the America’s Cup regatta in May and June, Lake Macquarie local Nathan Outteridge will be steering the hopes of the Swedish entry, Artemis Racing.
Meanwhile Team New Zealand has another Australian, Victorian skipper Glenn Ashby. A world champion sailor, Ashby might hail from Bendigo, but is tilting towards trans-Tasman sailing in search of glory.
With Australia failing to mount an America’s Cup challenger for the last three decades and an entrant for the last 17 years a generation of the nation’s finest sailors have long had no alternative other than to be flexible.
“There is no Australian challenger, however there are a lot of Australians in the teams. Ironically out of the six teams – there are three Australian skippers and even more personnel manning the boats on and off the water,” says the Sydney born Spithill, a world champion sailor for Australia and, for Team USA, a two-time America’s Cup conqueror and the youngest ever America’s Cup winning skipper.
The oldest sporting trophy in the world, the Auld Mug, is also perhaps the most tightly held. Since the first edition in 1851 only four nations can lay claim to having captured the silverware: the US, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand.
Australia famously shattered the stranglehold of the USA but since then support for another “boxing kangaroo” styled entrant has dwindled. Since the halcyon days there’s been a dip in public and corporate support for an Australian tilt. That has dented the hopes of homegrown talent.
“The America’s Cup hasn’t been in the spotlight for a long time because Australia hasn’t had a team. This is the pinnacle of sailing. It is the Formula 1 of sailing. We are in the fastest boats of our sport and we are on the cutting edge,” says Tom Slingsby, yet another Aussie and the Oracle Team USA tactician.
A proud Sydney sailing graduate, Slingsby has a yachting pedigree that is the envy of all six of the international teams competing in Bermuda. A Sydney to Hobart victor, a World and Olympic champion and a former America’s Cup winner – the 32-year old dreams of one day being able to race for an entry bearing the flag of his country of birth.
“I would love to compete for Australia in the America’s Cup. If anyone was curious about could we win the Americas Cup, you just have to look through these teams. They are littered with sailors from Australia,” Slingsby says.
With global powerhouse companies such as BMW, Panerai and Airbus investing millions of dollars in sponsorship and engineering expertise to keep the international teams at the forefront, Slingsby fears it might be hard for Australian players to match the corporate outlay. Although he is less worried about the crewing talent who he insists are more than capable of propelling lesser-funded teams to the top.
“We have to get an Australian team somehow, and we are working through trying to find ways to do that. When we do, we will win this thing eventually,” believes Slingsby.
Australia did have a flutter of hope with an entry for this edition of the cup, a team championed by the Hamilton Island Yacht Club. The backers of Sydney to Hobart champion Wild Oats XI submitted a contender before financial pressures forced the syndicate to withdraw their bid in 2014.
By many measures Oracle Team USA will be Australia’s unofficial entrant. Regatta rules stipulate only a quarter of the crew have to hail from the country where the yacht is registered, and of the six crew on board the star spangled banner’s entrant the skipper, tactician and at least one grinder will be from Australia.
One of those likely to take on the powering duties for the foiling wing sailed catamaran is Ky Hurst, a former ironman and Olympic marathon swimmer. A sailing rookie by his own account the transitioning athlete and new father – his daughter Juliette was born less than three weeks out from the regatta – has made a huge impact to the defending champions quest for a third straight Auld Mug.
“I was really nervous to come from an individual sport to a team environment but the team has made the transition comfortable for me from day one,” shares Hurst, “They’ve taught me a lot about sailing, but I’ve taught them a lot about endurance. The boat behind us is a completely different beast. It takes a lot of power and a lot of endurance to get them up and foiling.”
Like his countryman aboard the almighty defender Oracle – nationality comes after winning says Hurst. “We’ve got one goal in mind and that’s to make sure we keep this Cup. There is not an Australian team, I give it a 110% no matter who I am representing. To do everything I can, to get the best out of myself.”
To pretend nationality plays no factor belies the truth. For Australians like Spithill and Slingsby nothing beats defeating the New Zealanders. The Sydney duo did it aboard Oracle in San Francisco four years ago – winning eight straight races to defend their crown. In 2017 it would seem the Australian connections would love to inflict another defeat on one team more than any other.
“I hope we race Team New Zealand in the final again. A lot of people don’t think we should have won the last one. They thought it was a fluke. I am an extremely competitive guy and I want to prove to everyone that we are the better team. So let’s have a rematch,” says Slingsby.