Kirby: How the race set me up for Cup glory

Text Agathe Armand
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Kirby: How the race set me up for Cup glory Text Agathe Armand
The youngest sailor in 2011-12, Rome Kirby was 22 when he left Alicante with PUMA Ocean Racing. Two years later, he won the America’s Cup with Team Oracle. Here Kirby talks about the importance of the Volvo Ocean Race in his short but crammed career.

Rome Kirby
Age: 24
Nationality: United States
Sailed the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 with PUMA Ocean Racing (third place)
Won the America’s Cup 2013 with Team Oracle USA

He sailed dinghies as a kid before he quickly grew into a professional offshore racer. The son of Jerry Kirby, a man with three Volvo Ocean Races and six America’s Cups under his belt, Rome fully embraced his legacy in 2011-12 when joining PUMA Ocean Racing.

Every team had to race with three Under-30s crewmembers then*, a rule that helped younger sailors to get a spot onboard.  

“I got a huge opportunity with PUMA,” he says. “I had an absolute blast being on the water with the group of guys I’ve done it with. It was a pretty unbelievable experience. They gave me a chance and it definitely got me going in my professional sailing career.”

So what exactly did a young Rhode Island sailor learn from a nine-month challenge round the world?

“The Volvo is a long race,” he says. “It’s unlike any race I’ve done, it’s such a unique race. It’s strenuous mentally and emotionally. You get exhausted, you get tired, you feel like shit sometimes. But it’s not that bad if you can mentally handle it. If you can stand being cold and wet, then that’s fine.

“I’ve also learned from the guys I sailed with. Brad Jackson, Casey Smith, Jono Swain… The Volvo Ocean Race was great but it’s the guys I sailed with who’ve made the difference. I was very fortunate to go around with a team like that one. It was a bunch of great guys.”

Rome learned about endurance and teamwork onboard Mar Mostro; it also helped him getting ready for his next challenge – the America’s Cup.

“I got involved with Team Oracle and went to San Francisco pretty much straight after the Volvo Ocean Race finished. I think the Volvo is one of the best things I’ve done to get ready physically, mentally and emotionally for it.

“For three weeks during the Cup, I’ve had to dig in and find another level – we all thought we were well prepared and we actually had to find another level. The Volvo prepared me for that. It taught me how to take it one day at a time, one task at a time.”

Now 24, the grinder enjoys high-performance boats but above all – he loves a good team play.

“Being out in the ocean sailing 40 knots is pretty cool but at the same time, sailing a 72-foot catamaran down San Francisco bay doing 45 knots is pretty cool too. None of these scenarios will get old and I really enjoyed doing both.

“Any sailing you do, what makes it fun are the guys you’re with. It’s all about the team. I’m a team player, I’m not a solo guy.”

No single-handed sailing in sight then. So what’s next?

“I’ll be an Under-30 for the next two and maybe three Volvo Ocean Races,” he concludes. ”Yes, if I have the opportunity, I’d love to do it again.”

* There will be two Under-30s crewmembers onboard each Volvo Ocean 65 at all times for the 2014-15 edition of the race.