America's Cup - January 2012

Back at the America’s Cup World Series event in Portsmouth last September, Russell Coutts wondered aloud why a sailing nation as great as Great Britain couldn’t produce a team to race in the America’s Cup.

In the absence of any other options, Coutts now appears to have answered his own question by giving Ben Ainslie the wherewithal to create his own team. Ainslie is the hottest property in sailing right now, the 34-year-old Briton having already won a silver medal followed by three Olympic golds. He is the clear favourite to win another gold in the Finn class this summer at the Olympic regatta in Weymouth. If he does so, it will make Ainslie the greatest Olympic sailor of all time, more prolific even than the legendary Paul Elvstrom of Denmark.

A whole host of media and sponsorship opportunities will beckon Ainslie in the days and weeks after the Olympics, though he will have no time for idle chat on TV chat shows. Instead, Ainslie will be hot-footing it straight out of Weymouth over to San Francisco to compete as the skipper of his own AC45 catamaran, under the banner of Ben Ainslie Racing.

After being wooed by a number of Cup teams, Ainslie was persuaded to sign for the wealthiest, Russell Coutts’s Oracle Racing. In a team already bulging to the gunnels with talent, it’s hard to see exactly where Ainslie will fit in. His first foray into catamaran racing, three regattas at the helm of Oman Sail’s Extreme 40 in the Extreme Sailing Series last autumn, showed Ainslie is capable of adapting very quickly to the very unique demands of high-speed multi sailing. But as to whether he can seriously threaten the incumbent James Spithill for the skipper’s role - that seems highly unlikely in the short timeframe leading up to the Cup in 2013.

By Ainslie’s standards, anything other than the skipper’s job would be a bit-part role, whereas if he had signed for newly reignited Italian team Luna Rossa, he probably could have landed the plum job. So Coutts dangled the additional carrot of Ainslie running his own team on the ACWS circuit under his own brand name. Oracle will underwrite the £2.5m cost of campaigning on the circuit, which gives Ainslie the launchpad to build his own full-blown campaign for the following America’s Cup, the 35th edition.

This new venture will reunite Ainslie with former Alinghi team head Grant Simmer, who got to know and respect each other during the Team Origin project, the British America’s Cup campaign which Sir Keith Mills folded two years ago when Oracle decided to take the Cup down the multihull route. Simmer and Ainslie were initially both critical of Coutts’s new vision for the Cup, but now seem to have accepted it.

For Ainslie, it’s good to be in the news again for positive reasons, after being ejected from the Finn World Championships in Perth just before Christmas. When a TV boat persisted in getting in his way during one of the final races of the regatta, Ainslie’s Finn was swamped by the stern wave of the intrusive media boat. This sent the 95kg muscle mountain into a raging fury, diving off his dinghy after the race, hauling himself on board the TV boat to give the crew a piece of his mind, and diving back to his Finn a few seconds later.

This breach of sportsmanlike conduct resulted in Ainslie being disqualified from both races that day, dropping him from 1st to 11th overall. He faces a further inquiry into the incident, although if the mass outpouring of sympathy for Ainslie is anything to go by, there’s unlikely to be any further disciplinary action. In the aim of turning Ainslie into a global media star, publicity like this is all grist to the mill.




Make sure you've signed up to our FREE NEWSLETTER where we bring you exclusive interviews with the world's greatest sailors...

SIGN UP TO SAILJUICE XPRESS

& follow us on Twitter and Facebook!