Tuesday, December 14, 2010

James Spithill's speech at World Yacht Racing Forum

(Note: BMW ORACLE Racing skipper James Spithill gave the Opening Keynote Speech this morning at the World Yacht Racing Forum in Estoril, Portugal. Here is a copy of the speech.)

Good morning everyone and thanks for having me.

Before the coffee stops working and you guys gets too settled in your comfortable seats, I will make a few observations about our sport.

Then we’ll run a video with some great images with a taste of things to come.

That is a future for the America’s Cup that is full-on, dramatic and addresses a question which I guess is relevant to all of us here.

We love our sport.

Many of us have grown up with sailing since childhood and it’s more like a way of life.

But that doesn’t mean we can afford to take it for granted or miss an opportunity to improve it, make more it approachable and more understandable.

To be honest with you, I’d sign up for all three of those.

Naturally, my focus is the America’s Cup.

It is the most visible, the most talked about and, to me, the most challenging part of our sport.

Nothing comes close to testing how good you are at every single element in creating a winning team effort, than an Americas Cup.

Outsiders see it as a sailing contest, as a design contest or a management exercise.

Some of us know it as all of the above!

Controversy and the Cup never seem to be far apart. That was as true earlier this year as it was back in 1851.

While we would be bored of a sport without its talking points or controversies, we certainly don’t want it plagued with uncertainty or delay.

If you have followed what has been said about the reforms being brought in for the America’s Cup you would see that they boil down to three key things.

First off, we need continuity. That’s what independent management and good dispute-resolution procedures bring.

Secondly, sustainability is vital.

You might say that the Cup has survived on the basis of a handful of rich people for 159 years.

This might work for some teams, though many owners seek sponsorship these days and everyone wants to see returns that match the investments.

But it certainly doesn’t work for the event, which is much more dependent on commercial partnerships.

If I tell you that the 32nd America’s Cup in 2007 cost a quarter of billion dollars to stage, you’ll see why sustainability is imperative.

Thirdly, and crucially, we want more people turned-on by the America’s Cup…
… not just more sailors tuning in, but more non-sailors tuning in!

In my mind the most important part for the next AC is the TV.

While 2007 and 2010 saw some great footage, it wasn’t much different from what we saw in 2000 in regards to the technology.

I truly believe sailing can work as a televised sport.

And I offer these two examples in the sporting world:

NASCAR is the one of the most popular sports in the USA.

When you think about the concept, I’m sure there were a few questions asked about it in the early days…

a family sedan…
…albeit a little tricked-up from the showroom floor…
…racing round and round an  oval for 300 laps?

Now, if someone tried to sell you that as a potential TV concept, you would think they were crazy.

BUT NASCAR does a fantastic job of:

·         building- up the drivers
·         using graphics to make the cars stand out and look cool
·         supplying the commentators with data and stats
·         using audio from the drivers and their pit crews so that viewer can listen in to the strategies
Add in the graphics showing RPM, speed, etc. and it’s a very polished TV package that educates and captures viewers.

The other example I use is the Tour de France.

The basic concept of Tour de France is…

…men, dressed in skin tight Lycra…
…sitting on bikes for 5 hours a day…
…riding through the French countryside…
…for two weeks!

Put like that, it doesn’t sound like a winner for television.

But once again they do a great job of:

  • audio
  • heart rate monitors on the riders
  • RPM readouts
  • fantastic commentary educating the viewer on strategy and team tactics
  • marketing of the different people in the teams and their role
  • and a variety of camera angles from helicopters to capture the beauty of the course, to motorbikes weaving though the riders to give you the feeling of being in the peloton

I’m not into bike riding.

But, the Tour de France is one of my most favorite things to watch on TV because the viewer can understand what superb athletes the riders are and what the tactics are.

Once again, it’s a very polished TV package.

So, I’m confident the America’s Cup can be a successful TV product - PROVIDED we take a quantum leap forward.

On that note let’s get a flavor of the future:

Time for the video, thanks.

If the future’s sailing faster, thinking quicker, working harder, anticipating better…

…then it’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to.

And this is how I see the next America’s Cup:  seriously challenging sailing in seriously cool boats.

With real drama, on the water and off the water.

The best sailors and the fastest boats.

A question for you:

Which of these boats do you think kids would really want to have a go at sailing?

The monohull?

Or, the multihull?

I guess the more exciting boat wins!

I’m no longer a kid, but I want to tell you why I am relishing the next three years.

For a start there is the switch from monohulls to multihulls.

When the call was made in the last America’s Cup to go multihulls, I remember the initial reaction from some people was disappointment and frustration.

I was a little surprised myself…

… BUT very quickly after I thought about it, it turned to excitement!

What a fantastic opportunity to be exposed to a discipline of our sport that has always seemed out of reach.

Personally I always enjoy a challenge and going out of my comfort zone.

Plus to do it while going 40 knots whilst knowing the margin of error is small…it’s a bonus!

And you know what?

It can be done. Switching to multihulls is doable.

You only have to look at the record of the Origin guys or Alinghi’s helmsman Ed Baird and our own sailing team with guys like John Kostecki or Dirk de Ridder.

If you are good enough, you’re good enough.

It’s really that simple.

I’m not saying it doesn’t require hard work and application, because it does.

But show me a sailor who’s interested in learning new skills, expanding their experience or rising to a new challenge…

… and I’ll guarantee he or she is unafraid of change and will adapt.

For me though, the biggest change going to multihulls and extreme apparent wind sailing was learning how much to anticipate.

In a monohull, you get so used to looking at the jib and things happening slowly.

In a big, powerful multihull capable of tripling the wind speed, your reactions and skills are accelerated.

It’s all about being ahead of the cycle.

In a monohull, the tell tales might lift and you might be a degree off targets, but the inertia means the speed soaks off gradually.

In a 120-foot multihull, you can be flying a hull one moment and dropping it back into the water the next.

That doesn’t impress the crew much.

There’s simply no hiding the fact that you’re not sailing as well as you should be.

You have to react before each wind change and if you don’t react before the gust of wind hits, you are too late…

It’s a fun skill to learn.

I bet some of you here are already ahead of me, thinking…

            ‘alright, this guy’s converted to multihulls’,

            ‘Ok, fine, but he still has the experience of wingsails that few of his rivals have.’

‘This will be a nice little lead to have going into the next America’s Cup.’

Believe me when I say that this advantage is overrated.

Wings have been around for decades.

We’ve just been slow to catch up!

First, the wingsail’s speed comes from your design team and wing shapes have been around for a long, long time.

We would have won the America’s Cup without the wing.

The wingsail was a little bit faster than our soft sail package, but we would have got the job done with soft sails if needed.

The transition from soft sails to a wingsail rig is easier than you’d imagine.

And as you know, the smaller of the new America’s Cup classes, the AC45, will fast-track every team to the current state of the art next season.

So what does this tell us about the next America’s Cup?

Can monohull sailors switch to multihulls easily?

Of course they can. The good guys always adapt.

What I’m excited about for the next America’s Cup is going to be match racing multihulls.

Earlier this year we carried an intensive four days of testing and trialing in Valencia.

In some of the exercises, we deliberately put our Extreme 40 catamarans into really constrained spaces…

…such as a start box that was only six boat lengths wide and six boat lengths deep…

…or course boundaries that forced the boats to tack or gybe in quick succession.

The racing was awesome.

It brought you the close quarters racing you get in monohull racing, yet added the excitement and lead changing you get from the high speed multihulls.

Will the racing be different from monohull match racing?

Of course it will!

And what I am looking forward to most is the downwind legs.

This is because in a multihull you can pass so much more easily than a monohull.

And great racing needs overtaking and lead changes.

In monohull match racing and past America’s Cups, if you win the start or lead around the top mark there is only a 10-percent chance of the trailing boat passing.

Does that sound like good close racing to you?

Downwind in a multi, it will be much easier for the trailing boat, as it will always see if the leading boat has picked the right angle for jibes and the laylines.

The wrong angle in a multihull is very slow and you pay a huge VMG loss for missing a layline by a small margin.

In a monohull you get away with this, and this robs the boat behind of capitalizing on any mistake of the boat ahead, and ultimately doesn’t allow for passing.

No question about it: to have great racing you need passing opportunities.

But really there is one other big difference between monohulls and multihulls...and that is risk.

Monohulls don’t really look exciting unless they are powered up and in a lot of wind.

Even then, the only real risk is you could spin out or broach.

On a multihull that risk comes at a higher price. Instead of a spin-out or broach, you can capsize and have a real chance of ending your campaign.

This is not a race-winning move.

I think the smaller AC45s which teams will race in the first season will bring teams right to hard-core race mentality very quickly and that will translate into their AC72s.

Blazers and polo shirts belong to history.

Today’s fans will see athletes physically pushed to exhaustion.

I will close with a new initiative about which I am passionate: The Youth America’s Cup.

It’s a fantastic development.

Quite simply, there must be a pathway in place for young sailors to reach the front door of an America’s Cup team.

I know that I have been fortunate with my own career with none other than good luck.

It was through Yacht Club youth programs and youth match racing that I ended at an awards ceremony.

I got the Youth Award and the legendary Syd Fischer was also there receiving another award for his Ocean Racing.

I went up to him afterwards and I said: “Hey, I’d love to try Ocean Racing if that’s possible.”

That sort of kicked it all off.

It eventually led Syd to handing over his 2000 America’s Cup campaign to a bunch of us as the Young Australia campaign.

That was a great thing for Syd to have done.

Actually, for those of you who know Syd…

… you won’t be surprised that part of his thinking was to make sure he got his old 1995 boat to the start of the 2000 challenger series so that he didn’t forfeit his entry fee!

But it was a generous gesture.

Look around some of the America’s Cup and Volvo teams today, and you’ll see the Young Australia guys there.

Yet this sort of an opportunity is just so rare nowadays.

Owners now go straight to the top guys. They want the best experience they can hire. For good reason too!

Teams are created to win.

With Young Australia, the agenda was all about letting young guys learn the America’s Cup trade.

So it’s really difficult for a young person to figure out how to get into the game.

And one of my big frustrations is when a youth sailor asks me for advice about how they should plan to get into the America’s Cup...

…is that there is no obvious answer.

In the past, the match race circuit provided some sort of path…

…but nowadays there seems to be very few of people coming from the match race circuit with big boat experience or One-Design fleet racing World Championship boat speed skills.

Such skills are the building blocks of being a successful America’s Cup sailor.

So the Youth America’s Cup will create clear opportunities for young sailors that aren’t really there at the moment.

For today’s young sailors dreaming of being the next Russell Coutts we need to replace luck with a structured career path.

The Youth America’s Cup will convert Ambition Impossible into Ambition Achievable.

So to summarize, America’s Cup racing has to be:

  • high intensity
  • high entertainment
  • high athleticism
·         high pressure decision making

The America’s Cup can’t only be for the traditionalists, for the billionaires, for the designers, for the TV producers, for the sailors who have made a career out of it.

It has to be for the fans we have now and the new fans whose interest we have yet to earn.

We have to cherish the Cup’s heritage but not be a slave to it.

You have to respect its past but not be afraid of change.

Personally? What a fantastic time to be involved in the event.

It will be more challenging.

The boats will be way cooler.

It’s a test for those who embrace change, for those with curiosity and for those who simply want to become better all-round sailors.

It’s for people who like pushing themselves and going out of their comfort zone.

But…it’s not for the conservative, not for people who are afraid to fail, and it’s not for the armchair critics.

But then again, the America’s Cup never has been…

Thank you!

And enjoy the rest of the World Yacht Racing Forum.