2016-12-29 / Around Town


Ready to Defend Cup Crown
By Sam Crichton

Rome Kirby training as tactician on Oracle Team USA AC 45 in Bermuda. 
(Photo courtesy of Sam Greenfield) Rome Kirby training as tactician on Oracle Team USA AC 45 in Bermuda. (Photo courtesy of Sam Greenfield) While home in Newport during a break from training, local America’s Cup sailor Rome Kirby caught up with On the Waterfront. Kirby, who is part of the Oracle Team USA team defending their 2013 win in San Francisco, was enjoying a well-earned break from his intense training schedule as the team prepares for the 35th America’s Cup race in Bermuda in June of 2017.

The 27-year-old, who has the waters of Newport and Narragansett Bay in his blood, has relocated to Bermuda for the last two years since signing on again with Oracle Team USA. He has transitioned from his position on the boat as trimmer to now being the tactician, which involves working closely with Australian helmsman James Spithill. “I’ve always wanted to be at the middle or back of the boat, not the bow. To make a living doing the bow you have to be a bit crazy,” smirked Kirby, whose father, Jerry, is one of Newport’s notable bowmen.

Both Kirbys have an America’s Cup win to their name and are the only father-son duo on the books for that accomplishment. Father and son sailed onboard the 88-foot Rambler in the 2015 Rolex Sydney Hobart race, and as part of the crew nursed the boat to the finish line after damaging the starboard daggerboard on the challenging race.

Like his father, the younger Kirby’s earliest memories of sailing are anchored in local waters. “I have grown up sailing in Newport,” he said. “I started out in the Optis at about six years old, sailing out of Sail Newport.” At 20, he went “into the 420s and skiffs in the 49ers and stepped from the 420 to a Volvo Ocean 70 for the 2011-2012 race onboard Puma.” (The Volvo Ocean 70 is the former class of racing yachts designed for the Volvo Ocean Race.)

Between the world-class races – four Newport to Bermuda, four RORC Caribbean 600s, three Jamaica races, and one each of Volvo Ocean, Sydney to Hobart, Fastnet Race, and Middle Sea – and too many delivery and training sails to count, Kirby estimates he has sailed close to 100,000 nautical miles over his sailing career.

When asked which type of sailing he prefers, Kirby said, “It’s a really hard choice between offshore and regatta racing. When I sailed in the VOR (Volvo Ocean Race) in 2011-2012, we were always throttling back the boats. I had an amazing time racing on a really cool boat with an amazing team.”

While training in Bermuda (a fulltime commitment for the athletes), Kirby and six other Oracle Team USA teammates sail Moths. The state-of-the-art foiling Moth has become a favorite and can be seen skimming across the waters of sailing locations around the world.

Asked what he views as the greatest challenge to the marine industry and the marine environment, Kirby said the fact that “it’s so dependent on the economy. The effects [are] felt right through the industry.” Awareness of environmental issues, he added, “is there. It’s now a matter of taking some action to repair the damage.”

When asked about what damage he has personally encountered, he spoke about swimming in the waters of the Malacca Strait (the narrow stretch of water between the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra). He remembered “not being able to see the keel fin of the VOR 70. I didn’t know which way was up or down, and it was the middle of the day. I don’t get grossed out, but–”

The expression on his face gave the impression of an experience Kirby was not keen to repeat.

There are no guesses on which sailing venue is his favorite: Newport, in the summer. And the waters of Narragansett Bay. “I also really enjoy Sydney Harbor, Cape Town, and Bermuda.”

In July of this year during the World Match Racing Tour in Newport, Kirby gave some words of advice to the young sailors racing in the Opti New England Championships.

“Have fun and do it because you enjoy it,” he told them. “Don’t do something you don’t want to do, that someone forces on you. As long as you are enjoying it, go for it. At the end of the day, hard work and consistently learning from experiences is what it’s about.”

In the next 10 years, Kirby would like to have a team of his own racing in the Volvo Ocean Race. “I’ve raced with some of the best sailors in the world and I’d like to get a top team together to do the VOR. The sport is definitely changing and I want to be part of it for a long time to come.”

Kirby will be returning to Bermuda in the new year and come June will be ready to defend the America’s Cup alongside his Oracle Team USA crew.

Sam Crichton, a transplant from Australia, has worked in the sailing industry for more than 16 years both locally and internationally.

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