Community congratulates local Oracle heroes
The America’s Cup returned to its spiritual home in Newport on Nov. 2, and a sold-out audience at the Jane Pickens Theater paid homage the local members of the team that retained the Cup for the United States.
Among the honorees at the event were three Oracle Team USA teammates with Jamestown connections.
The evening began with a showing of the final race of the 34th America’s Cup final in San Francisco. It was the race on Sept. 25 that Oracle Team USA completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in the history of sports, rebounding from an 8-1 deficit to win the series, 9-8. The video was followed by the evening’s biggest surprise, as the America’s Cup trophy – the Auld Mug – was carried down the theater’s center aisle, attended by white-glove security and placed on the stage.
The honorees who took their seats on the stage included Scott Ferguson of Jamestown, who has participated in several America’s Cup campaigns. He was the lead rig designer for Oracle this time around. Also on stage was boatbuilder and fellow islander Jason Torbett, who had previous experience working on Dennis Connor’s two Stars & Stripes boats that competed in the 2003 America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand.
Torbett got the call from Oracle after the team’s first 72-foot, $10-million catamaran crashed in San Francisco Bay.
The third team member with Jamestown connections was Jeremy Swain, a boatbuilder who grew up on the island and now lives in Portsmouth. According to Swain, it was networking that got him invited to join Oracle for the campaign. He had previously worked on retired America’s Cup boats like the 12 Metres that ply Narragansett Bay, but never before on an active team.
“The carbon, custom boatbuilding industry is so tiny,” said Swain, “that I’ve been everywhere for work and you run into the same people.”
Swain once worked for Goetz Boats, and when his former boss got a call from Oracle construction manager Mark Turner, he thought of Swain. Turner said he was looking for help and Swain’s former boss arranged an interview. Turner must have been impressed, because soon after, Swain relocated to San Francisco for the next seven months. He began working for Oracle in June 2012 and his primary focus was on building the second boat.
“I worked on the structural fit out of boat two,” Swain said. “Building the hulls, and then putting the bulkheads into the hulls, and figuring out where the primary bits of the structure went.”
When the first team boat capsized in October 2012 – the event that brought Torbett to San Francisco – Swain remained focused on the second boat. He said the team couldn’t afford to slow down on the second boat when the first one broke. The team was split up into two squads and Swain remained with the assembly of boat two.
Swain returned to Rhode Island in February. He could have remained in San Francisco longer, but he had left his wife and two small children behind. It was time to get back home to them, he said.
“I could have easily stretched it out longer, but it was hard enough on my wife,” Swain said. “It’s a ton of sacrifice. It’s tough on everybody.”
After returning home, Swain began working on building the latest edition of the well-known racing yacht, Rambler. However, he did miss the action out west. Swain said as the competition progressed, there were plenty of times he wished he were still in San Francisco.
“One of the things about working with a team like [Oracle] is that you really feel like you’re a part of something bigger,” Swain said. “It’s a great group of people to work with.”
Swain followed the races from Rhode Island and stayed in touch with teammates in San Francisco. He said even when Oracle had its back against the wall – when the team was one race away from elimination – he had every confidence that skipper James Spithill would come back and defend the Cup.
“I was pleased as punch when they pulled that off,” he said.
According to Swain, Spithill is “really good” when faced with adversity.
“He does that sort of thing all the time,” Swain said. “He actually seems to thrive with his back against the wall.”
During the event last week, each of the team members answered questions from Andy Green, who emceed the event. Green did preand post-race shows for the America’s Cup broadcasts. There was also an appearance by America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran Ken Read, who provided analysis on the broadcasts. The biggest accolades of the night, and a few good-natured jibes, were reserved for 23-year-old Rome Kirby of Newport, the only American on the winning Oracle crew.
“I think the idea probably came about in everyone’s mind to do a congratulatory event the second that Oracle crossed the finish line with the only American aboard being Rome, who is a Newporter,” said Brad Read, executive director of Sail Newport, the group that organized the event. “It wasn’t hard to justify the need for some sort of big event. We made it inexpensive to make sure that families could come. It worked. We got a ton of kids there.”
Ferguson was also happy to see so many young faces at the event.
“It was nice see so many people at the event and especially the young kids,” he said. “I’m very proud to be part of the Rhode Island contingent. We have a long history in this area of great builders, designers and sailors. I’m honored to be part of this legacy along with my teammates.”