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Spithill takes turn in engine room

Driving force: Spithill grinds his way through a practice run

It’s common for sailing stories to speak about the helmsmen on a boat as being “on the handlebars”.

The bicycle reference is pretty clear; this is the guy steering the boat.

Certainly Jimmy Spithill, the Oracle Team USA skipper, has his fair share of such references since he burst onto the America’s Cup scene as the youngest Cup skipper in history in 1999.

However, you’d be hard pressed to find evidence of him on the handles — as in grinding the winches.

That’s just not something helmsmen normally do. After all, their hands are supposed to be on the wheel at all times.

But there was Spithill, head down, arms pumping, during race practice this week in Bermuda.

“We’re just trying to figure out ways to sail the boat better,” Spithill said.

“The boat is so physical and undermanned, we’re exploring opportunities where I can jump on and help the boys top up the oil.

“With Tom [Slingsby, the Oracle tactician] being a helmsman as well, it ends up being a smoother transition through some of the manoeuvres anyway.

“We’re just trying a couple of ideas and if it ends up helping, we’ll see if it goes into the playbook.

“Everyone is having the same issue. There is too much to do and not enough resource on the boat to do it.

“So, we’re fortunate I think, to have the depth we have, to swap it around.”

Traditionally, the helmsman has been spared the physical chore of grinding. But that may be a thing of the past.

“Be careful what you wish for,” Spithill said when asked how it felt. “But I don’t think I’m in any danger of getting drafted up there full-time!”