He’s seen the world and then some. Now, at age 23, Rome Kirby is tackling the San Francisco Bay with ORACLE TEAM USA.
In July, Kirby completed the around the world Volvo Ocean Race onboard with the PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG crew. He sailed more than 39,000 nautical miles, hitting 10 ports as they circumnavigated the globe. He was the youngest sailor in the fleet.
He’s currently reprising his rookie role, this time as the youngest with the ORACLE TEAM USA crew. But that doesn’t faze Kirby, who has been sailing since age 3.
“As the youngest, the guys do give you a hard time a bit,” he said. “But I just go through the daily routine like everyone – when you’re part of the team, you’re part of the team.”
Kirby shifted from offshore racing to sailing on the Bay at the start of September when he joined the team at Pier 80 full-time. While he’s new to sailing in San Francisco, it’s still familiar territory. He grew up around the America’s Cup as his father, Jerry Kirby, is a veteran of six campaigns.
“I lived in New Zealand on-and-off for four years, lived in San Diego – both were a lot of fun,” Kirby said of his childhood days around his father’s teams. “I’ve definitely wanted to do the Cup since I was young, and now I have the chance to be a part of a team – I’m psyched.”
He’s also excited about the next generation of America’s Cup boats – the AC72.
“Walking by the new boat every day, I’m really anxious and I want to get that thing on the water,” he said.
First, Kirby is making the transition to racing an AC45. He’s been on the water every sailing day since his arrival, and he’s assisting with the sail program and taking care of the boats.
“The fundamentals are all the same, but I have a lot to learn about these boats,” he said. “They’re fun and the Volvo 70s were fun, but it’s a different ballgame.
“It’s not as physically punishing to do higher boat speeds,” he said. “It hurts on a Volvo 70 to go 30 knots, where in training here we were going 30 knots no problem. It’s still insanely physical but you’re not underwater while you’re doing it, you’re just getting smashed by water. It’s a different kind of sailing.”
For helmsman Jimmy Spithill, it’s great to add the youth and energy to the team. They have focused on quickly integrating Kirby into the program to get him up to speed.
“Rome has slotted in seamlessly,” said Spithill. “It’s exciting to have him – he’s young yet incredibly experienced, he’s strong, he’s fit; he ticks all of the boxes. When he came to join us, he had just finished the Volvo, so he was obviously exhausted. But we were impressed at how he jumped in. And, he fits right in with all of the guys.”
Kirby has been trimming during training onboard the AC45s, and he is embracing the daily schedule. From gym sessions to meetings, boat maintenance to testing, it’s all a welcome routine that he’s grateful to be part of.
“It’s nice getting off the boat, having a warm shower at the base, eating real food not freeze-dried, and you get to go home every night,” Kirby said. “It’s just a blast. These boats are a ton of fun and this is a team of really good guys.”