Katie Spithill: Helming an AC45 and the Olympic Match Racing Decision

Katie Spithill, the first woman to helm an AC45 with brother James in San Francisco
James Spithill

Sail-World correspondent, Damien Devine recently interviewed former World #2 ranked match racer Katie Spithill

Katie is currently in Weymouth training with AST and RPAYC mates Nicky Souter and Jess Eastwell.

Katie Spithill, you recently did a trip to San Fran to catch up with brother James and check out the AC45’s and the new AC set up. I believe you were the first female to be lucky enough to helm an AC45. Along with James and his Oracle Racing Team you experienced first hand the power of these awesome machines. It’s a great opportunity to get a female perspective on the boats and how they fit into match racing and the multihull scene in general. So…

What do you think of the 45’s?

Spithill: Wow – I don’t know where to start, the first thing I said after we hit the dock after the days racing & training was 'Can I have one?' The AC45 was great, it is a fantastic multihull to choose to be involved in the Americas Cup.

Being a match racer and now a F18 sailor, how do you think the match racing aspect will work with these boats?

Katie Spithill, Jessica Eastwell and Lucinda Whitty in Holland - Delta Lloyd Regatta 2011

Spithill: Being onboard one of the two Oracle boats whilst they were Match Racing gave me a real insight as to how it is already working using these mutlihulls to Match Race. Not only was it fast, ever changing and exhilaration, there was also a fear factor in there of ‘will we cross, we will meet’ etc whilst the boats are fast closing in on each other at 25+ knots of boat speed.

Unlike the Old AC Boats or many match racing boats these boats are fast moving and need a lot of foresight and anticipation in relation to what will happen next, so that the runners can be loaded, the daggerboards changed, the gennaker furled, etc before you can tack or gybe.

Do you think it could be sailed by an all female crew?

Spithill: The age old question! It is not a question of if it can be done but more so when it will be done. It has been done in the past by the likes of Dawn Riley and the Mighty Mary team back in 1995 when she beat greats like Conners and Cayard. Women can do just fine in the AC when the position and circumstances are right; Just the same as any male team. Forcing it to be an all female team is not a good plan. Integrate women in a proper way and you'll have something, Drivers, Tacticians? Yes. Girls can compete with men on equal terms there, but there is no way that an all girl crew can be competitive when brute force is a key component. Unless of course there were more of them, and this is already the case in some match race classes.

Right now I have my head down on the goal of the Olympics 2012, but the Americas Cup is also in my mind for the future.

Katie Spithill - ISAF Women's Match racing World Championship

Any plans to put a team together?

Spithill: The Americas Cup has always been in my sights, and now that I have been sailing on the AC45s I am absolutely hooked. First and foremost I will continue with my Olympic Campaign Bid leading to 2012 and go from there.

Where are you at with your Olympic Campaign?

Spithill: Due to a management decision last month from the Australian Sailing Team I have been sidelined from the right to skipper for the Australian Women’s Match Racing Squad leading to London 2012 Olympics. This came as quiet a shock given my experience, ranking and results to date and I am still waiting for answers to justify this decision.

I have since then joined forces with current World #2 Ranked Women’s Match Racer Nicky Souter ( who as you know is a former World Champion) as her bowman/tactician to strengthen and continue our campaign together towards 2012.

What other multihull sailing are you doing?

Spithill: My husband (Grant Pellew), and I race an F18 Cat together which is fantastic. Unfortunately at this stage I spend 80% of the year in Europe/America, so we don’t get a lot of time for it. Whilst we have qualified a spot for the F18 World Championships the past 2 years in a row we have been unable to compete on either occasion due to my other match racing commitments. I am returning home in a few weeks to compete in the AUS F18 Nationals up at Magnetic Island with Grant so we can qualify for the Long Beach Worlds.

SWE ARTEMIS vs ITA MASCALZONE Americas cup legend John Bertrand as the 18th man aboard ARTEMIS with Katie Spithill as the onboard observer - Louis Vuitton Trophy Auckland

What are your thoughts on the whole beach cat multihull scene?

Spithill: I was first introduced to cats at a young age as my father had a Hobie 14 Turbo that James and I would take out. My first memory is of James tipping it over and with the 2 of us kids unable to pull it back up we just happily sat on the hull waiting for dad to realise we hadn’t come back in and come out and pull it up for us. Needless to say it took a few weeks for me to go back out with James at the helm! The next involvement I had with multihulls was meeting my future husband and being convinced to go to Mexico for the Hobie 16 Worlds in 2004 and sail in the Womens Division with his friends wife, whilst the boys worked and competed in the Open Event. Needless to say I was hooked, and have been multihull sailing ever since. Incidentally, Nicky was at those Worlds too

Thanks, Katie, for your time and insight. Good luck with your Olympic campaign!

Spithill: Thank you.