START­ING LINE

A friendly ri­valry keeps two Cup de­fender team­mates on their toes.

Sailing World - - Contents - PHOTO PETER HUR­LEY

Jimmy Sp­ithill has a cold. But the skip­per perks up when the con­ver­sa­tion turns to the end­less com­pe­ti­tion at Or­a­cle Team USA be­tween him and de­sign co­or­di­na­tor Scott Fer­gu­son. The ri­valry is cut­throat — there is no mercy; no quar­ter is given. And that’s just af­ter hours. Sp­ithill be­lieves com­pe­ti­tion in just about any form brings out the best in ev­ery­one.

For the pug­na­cious helms­man, a good day is made up of tick­ing off re­sults on the wa­ter that were dis­cussed in the­ory on land. Then be­fore he heads home, he likes to “go down to the ta­ble-tennis ta­ble, kick Scott’s ass, and take his money.”

When Sp­ithill is asked if he has more com­pas­sion for Fer­gu­son, who is older

Or­a­cle Team USA tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Scott Fer­gu­son, an ace on any court, slices them hard and fast at his ri­val Jimmy Sp­ithill.

than him and re­cently be­came a grand­fa­ther, Sp­ithill replies: “To be hon­est, I feel very com­fort­able tak­ing Scott’s money. More so than ever.”

As is of­ten the case, eye­wit­nesses at the same event have dif­fer­ent rec­ol­lec­tions. Fer­gu­son says, “As far as our in­ter­nal com­pe­ti­tions, it will be hard for Jimmy to ad­mit to los­ing to me at any­thing, even though it hap­pens of­ten.”

Sp­ithill is quick to re­ply that Fer­gu­son’s state­ment “is a lie and it’s dis­ap­point­ing. What’s most im­por­tant is you’re only as good as your last game, and last game Scott got ab­so­lutely hosed, and he’s help­ing putting my kids through school.”

The bat­tles are not lim­ited to ta­ble tennis. There were spir­ited matchups on the bas­ket­ball court. That came to an end when two team­mates who were play­ing with them “al­most got into a fist fight.”

To keep their minds keen, there are also men­tal gym­nas­tics used to hone their brain­power, such as poker games. At the last event, Sp­ithill got the bet­ter of Fer­gu­son and was ea­ger to re­port that he made an­other con­tri­bu­tion to his col­lege fund. Bit­terly, Fer­gu­son said: “Jimmy had a good day at the ta­ble. But he’s also fin­ished dead last. I’ve never fin­ished dead last.”

At an im­promptu box­ing match be­tween the on-the-wa­ter team and the shore crew, Fer­gu­son jumped out of the crowd to vol­un­teer to spar with Sp­ithill in the ring. While there was no knock­out recorded, Fer­gu­son ad­mit­ted, “Jimmy went easy on me.”

While the in­ter­nal com­pe­ti­tions be­tween Sp­ithill and Fer­gu­son have in­cluded enough events to con­sti­tute a bizarre de­cathlon, two events are strictly off-lim­its. One of them is a match race in Lasers. Sp­ithill sim­ply re­fuses to go there. Fer­gu­son has won the Laser Mas­ter Worlds not once, but twice. Asked for a com­ment, Sp­ithill says: “That would not hap­pen. As much as I love a chal­lenge, I’m also not stupid.”

The other com­pe­ti­tion that is ver­boten is ice hockey. Ferg, who was in­ducted into the St. Ge­orge’s School Ath­letic Hall of Fame for be­ing a three-sport ath­lete, en­joys a spir­ited ex­change of ideas while play­ing hockey, ei­ther on ice skates or in-line skates. Sp­ithill, not so much.

There is no con­sen­sus as to who is win­ning the off-the-wa­ter com­pe­ti­tions, but a correspondent noted that com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the two is ef­fort­less.

In con­ver­sa­tion, Fer­gu­son and Sp­ithill riff off each other’s ideas and com­plete each other’s sen­tences like an old mar­ried cou­ple who are ad­dicted to bick­er­ing and know each other’s lines by heart. This is their fourth Amer­ica’s Cup to­gether, dat­ing back to the 2004 cam­paign with the Ital­ians, and they have a en­joyed a pro­duc­tive part­ner­ship. To­gether they made it to the Louis Vuit­ton Fi­nals in 2007 and won the last two Amer­ica’s Cups. For them, the recipe for suc­cess is sim­ple: Work to­gether to make the boat go fast on the wa­ter, then ab­so­lutely an­ni­hi­late each other on land. Q

Scott Fer­gu­son re­views the day’s work list with Or­a­cle Team USA coach Philippe Presti, who also serves as a go-to be­tween sailors and de­sign­ers.

PHOTO D AV E R E E D

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