Broken Rudder Forces Jimmy Spithill & Co. to With Draw From SailGP Finals

Bad Luck Plagues Team USA in SailGP Finals Event

Day one of the Taranto edition of the high-powered foiling catamaran SailSP series saw Team USA atop the leaderboard after two commanding victories assured the struggling USA team a spot in the winner-take-all finals on Day 2.

Sailing with only three crewmembers due to forecasted light winds, the US team of helmsman Jimmy Spithill, flight controller Rome Kirby, and tactician/grinder Paul Campbell James put on a show of foiling expertise as they cruised to two easy victories in front of a raucous crowd lining the waterways and on-land venues in this historic Italian coastal city.

Catamaran racing photo of Jimmy Spithill and the US team by SailGP

Team Japan helmed by Australian Nathan Outteridge won the other Saturday race and put themselves in a good position to compete for regatta honors the following day.

Sunday’s races, however, were a different story. In the first race of the day, with a full crew of 5, Team USA sailed to an impressive second place finish behind dark horse Team New Zealand, which was sailing without America’s Cup winner Peter Burling who is preparing for the upcoming Olympics. On the final fleet race of the day, Spithill put the team through its paces only needing to finish to qualify for the upcoming three-way finals.

Those finals saw the teams once again paired to three sailors as Team Japan, Team USA, and Team Spain battled it out for regatta honors.

Spectators for finals, photo by SailGP

It was all Team USA until Spithill rounded the final mark. Then, the boat became airborne for the briefest moment and when it came down, it was apparent that something was wrong.

“I hit something,” Spithill was overheard saying after the boat made a hard landing and appeared dead in the water. Onboard chatter revealed a broken rudder would make the boat unsailable in the home stretch.

“Extremely tough way to end it,” said Spithill. “We were really sailing a perfect race and all we had to do was round the mark and head to the finish. Now I know how a Formula 1 driver feels when you have two corners to go, and you have an engine fail.”

The object was not identified but hit with enough impact to break the top of the F50’s carbon fiber wing-tipped rudder as the team raced towards the final bottom mark of the course.

Video review of the incident revealed that the rudder shaft, though already broken, held together until the team went around the mark where it separated causing the race boat to abruptly leap into the air before slowing to a crawl, forcing the Americans to retire from racing.

At press time, it was not clear if the rudder in question was the same rudder that was damaged in the Bermuda SailGP event which saw Team USA capsize in high winds because of its inability to steer.

SpinSheet asked Spithill if he felt the team “was snake bit” after the Bermuda incident and now the Taranto rudder failure.

Foiling catamaran sailing photo by SailGP

In an uncharacteristically subdued Spithill rejoinder, the brash Australian declined to place blame on anything other than the nature of competitive sailing.


“Some things are just out of your control,” said Spithill “You can’t control having a significant impact under the water. These things will happen.”


Final results of the three-way finals saw Team Japan finishing first and Team Spain finishing second. Italy’s Francesco Bruni was the flight controller for much of Team Japan’s winning Taranto run.

The Sail GP circuit now departs for Plymouth, England with racing due to start on July 18-18.


Team Spain leads the series with 16 points; followed by Team Great Britain with 15 points and Team Japan with 14 points. Team USA is tied with Team Denmark for last place with 11 points.

The winner of the overall series to be crowned in San Francisco early next year will be rewarded with a $1 million prize.

By Craig Ligibel

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