Having grown up surrounded by America’s Cup history in Newport, Rhode Island, and with the veteran pro sailor Jerry Kirby as his father, Rome Kirby is no stranger to professional sailing.
Nonetheless, at age 23 and the youngest sailor of Team ORACLE, Kirby considers himself blessed to have made his childhood dream of sailing in the America’s Cup a reality.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the America’s Cup, and the AC72 is the fastest boat I’ve ever sailed on. I’m fortunate to sail on it day to day,” Kirby says.
Although Kirby trimmed headsails on the AC45, he is an “offside trimmer” on board the AC72. In other words, he spends a lot of time grinding, powering the hydraulics that make it possible for 11 mere human beings to control something as massive as an AC72. “My role is actually pretty easy. I just pass the jib. It’s everything else that is challenging.
“We don’t have any rituals or songs to blast before we go out,” Kirby adds. “Sailing over 40 knots everywhere on the AC72 is thrilling enough, so we have plenty of adrenaline. We’re always fired up and ready to sail.”
Of course, racing an AC72 for four hours a day requires more than just adrenaline; to maintain a high level of fitness, sailors meet with trainers and nutritionists to customize workouts and diets. “I eat everything in sight,” says Kirby, who needs to eat 6,000 calories a day to gain muscle mass.
On site, a state-of-the-art facility has everything an America’s Cup sailor needs to stay healthy. Each sailor works out three to four times a week, performing high-intensity workouts consisting of cardio, strength training and pedestal grinding. “We have to keep our heart rates elevated for at least 30 minutes at a time, which is the average amount of time our heart rates will be up while we’re racing,” Kirby explains.
Even on their days off, crewmembers remain dedicated to staying fit. Kitesurfing, for instance, has become one of the team’s favorite pastimes, and spending quality time together is a welcome break from their rigorous daily routine. “Day in and day out, we do the same stuff: work out from 0730 to 0900, have a team meeting and then go sailing. It’s a long campaign, but we’re all in it together,” Kirby says.
Though a 2012 Puma Volvo Ocean Race veteran, sailing for the Cup is a completely different playing field for Kirby. “I’m bringing what I learned at the Volvo here, but I have to refine my skills. This time, I’m sailing for four hours instead of sailing 24/7, and I’m sailing around buoys,” he says. “I take every day in stride because every day is a great learning experience.”
Kirby adds that he’s begun working with the electronics team since joining ORACLE to better understand the technology behind the boat. “It’s neat learning all the tech stuff I didn’t know before,” he says, adding that he appreciates the entire staff’s dedication to ORACLE, especially after the death of Artemis strategist Andrew “Bart” Simpson, which has led to ever-changing Cup rules and regulations, as well as sailing boycotts from Luna Rossa.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding both the racing in San Francisco Bay and his own team, Kirby says he is enjoying the experience and looking forward to future races. “We work hard, but we have to have fun with it. This is a cool event. Would I sail in the America’s Cup again? For sure.”