SAN FRANCISCO — Hours after being hit with the harshest penalties in the 162-year history of the America's Cup, skipper Jimmy Spithill defiantly declared defending champion Oracle Team USA to be an underdog that "will come out fighting" against Emirates Team New Zealand starting Saturday.
"I'm expecting the fight of my life," Spithill, a 34-year-old Australian, said Tuesday afternoon. "Not only for myself but for the guys sitting up here next to me. I don't think we've ever seen so much controversy and distraction before the America's Cup. But, look, that's where we're at. We're obviously the clear underdog and we'll do everything we can."
Oracle Team USA was docked two points in the America's Cup match and Dirk de Ridder, a key crewman who had trimmed the massive wing sail on the team's high-performance, 72-foot catamaran, was banished from the regatta by an international jury.
The match begins with two races Saturday and two on Sunday on San Francisco Bay.
The penalties were announced after nearly five weeks of investigation into Oracle Team USA's illegal modifications of prototype boats used in warm-up regattas last year and earlier this year.
Oracle Team USA, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison of Oracle Corp., essentially starts the match at minus-2, meaning it must win 11 races to retain the oldest trophy in international sports. Team New Zealand must still win nine races to claim the silver trophy.
Two shore crew members also were expelled, grinder Matt Mitchell was barred from the first four races and the syndicate was fined $250,000.
Kyle Langford, a wing trimmer on the B crew who will replace de Ridder, was given a warning, and another sailor, identified only as Sailor X, had his case dismissed.
About five hours after the penalties were announced, Spithill introduced his crew at the syndicate's base in a massive old shipping warehouse on Pier 80. Speaking over the clatter and hum of the shore crew preparing the team's two $10 million yachts being prepared for Wednesday's practice, Spithill said over and over again that Oracle was the underdog.
Although Team New Zealand has been sailing for two months in the challenger trials, it was a little odd hearing Spithill calling the deep, well-funded and defending champion Oracle team an underdog.
But that illustrates how important de Ridder was to the team. His job was to trim the 131-foot wing sail, which looks and performs like an airplane wing, powering the catamaran to speeds in excess of 50 mph.
In the 2010 America's Cup, the Dutchman, nicknamed "Cheese," was responsible for harnessing the power of the radical, 223-foot wing sail that powered BMW Oracle Racing's trimaran to a two-race sweep of Alinghi of Switzerland that returned the America's Cup to the United States.
Spithill said he sailed with de Ridder for six years.
"He's one of the hardest-working guys I've ever known, never once had a question about any of his ethics, honest, and one hell of a good guy to race with," Spithill said. "Very, very competitive, and he'll be missed. But Karl's a great guy. We've got a few days to get organized and do what we can."