Is James Spithill the most over-qualified grinder in the Rolex Sydney-Hobart?

America’s Cup winning skipper Jimmy Spithill could well be the most overqualified grinder you’ll see in action in the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia’s Rolex Sydney Hobart start line today.

“He’s been a wonderful team player and literally in the pre-start you’re going to see him grinding, he said he’d do whatever it takes, and he’s lived up to that,” Comanche skipper Ken Read said. “And then, oh by the way, he knows how to drive a boat OK as well.”

Spithill suggests it could be quite the opposite: “Or the most under qualified, depending on how you look at it.”

But that grinding and the weight on the helm of the most beamy 100-footer on the course is going to require quite a bit of elbow grease from the Australian who is lining up with a widely reported elbow injury.

Just recently Spithill revealed he completed one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history with a torn elbow tendon.

“Once you’re in the heat of the battle, you don’t think about it,” he said.

That’s just the kind of tough stuff he’s made from though.

It had looked like Spithill would be shore-side for the 70th, declining a ride with Syd Fisher’s Ragamuffin thinking he’d have surgery on the tendon in December. It would have been a sentimental one too; Spithill did his first Hobart with Fisher in 1998. But, after consulting with his surgeon more recently they’ve decided to postpone the operation until the New Year.

“It’s not great, I still have the torn tendon, but I’ve been receiving treatment for it, specifically steroid or cortisone shots, so it’s fine,’’ he said. “When it’s numb you don’t feel it, but it’s something I have to take care of before this next America’s Cup or it will become a real problem.”

It’s not so much the pain that’s the issue for Spithill, it is having to rest. The idea of taking it easy for the eight-week recovery makes the pain bearable.

“We’re just talking with the surgeon now, I’ll find the recovery really challenging because I hate sitting still. So I just keep prolonging it, and prolonging and trying to get another injection,” he said. “But it’s at the point now where he said ‘that’s it, you must do this now, in the New Year’, so we’ll get that done and hopefully be fighting fit again.”

It’s a different kind of campaigning for Spithill, who joined the Comanche crew just weeks before today’s start. There was no building the boat from the ground up, handpicking the team members, and months and months of crew training.

“In that regard it’s refreshing for me, yeah, you know, it’s great to be able to come in late to the program and see how great a job the guys have done.

“With a project like this, to lead, the skipper you have to be there from day one. But for me it’s good to see a different project, how they’re running, what they’re doing, how they’re making their decision, and Kenny’s been one of the most successful guys in the sport.

“With an America’s Cup campaign it is so full on, you sacrifice so much time, sometimes if you want to re-stimulate the brain and come up with new ideas. You actually have to get away from it, and do a completely different project, and somehow that just gets you going again and you find yourself thinking about the America’s Cup.”

Spithill will get into more familiar territory offshore, when the watch systems settle into place and he gets his hands on the helm, alternating with Read and Kelvin Harrap in the 628 nautical mile race.

“I love technology, and this boat is the latest,” he said. “It’s a lot less loaded, in the 72-foot cats we’re bearing away doing 50 knots of boat speed so they get incredibly loaded when they’re on the foils.

“But a boat like this, when you’re sending it hard on the waves, it gets some load as well, but I’m amazed at how much feel and how responsive Comanche is, it’s just a really well balanced boat.

Just how Comanche will go offshore is an unknown. Launched in October she’s yet to be tested in an offshore yacht race. She’s been the subject of much hype, and certainly has defending champion Wild Oats XI nervous. But like all new technology, it has to be tested somehow, albeit in one of the most grueling circumstances.

“It’s quite rare for a boat of this size and magnitude to use the Sydney Hobart as a test for the boat, but Jim Clark isn’t afraid of a challenge.”

The start of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race will be broadcast live on the Seven Network throughout Australia and webcast live to a global audience on Yahoo!7.

A Parade of Sail will take place from 10.30am to 11.30am, before A fleet of 117 will set sail from three start lines in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race on December 26 at 1.00pm AEDT.

By Danielle McKay, RSHYR media 

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