America’s Cup: Ainslie challenged by uncertainty

Published on January 9th, 2014

By Ben Ainslie
A new year, a new challenge. With a full-blown America’s Cup bid still the long-term goal for JP Morgan BAR, more on which later, it felt good to announce at the London Boat Show on Wednesday that we are entering the team into the Extreme 40 Sailing Series this year; an exciting global tour raced in high-performance catamarans which should serve as good preparation for an assault on the Auld Mug.

Extreme 40s are multihulls not dissimilar to the AC45s which we raced in the America’s Cup World Series prior to last September’s event out in San Francisco. The idea behind entering the series is that, with the protocol for the 35th America’s Cup not yet announced, and with no AC45 racing this year, they are the closest thing to America’s Cup boats which we can race.

Defenders Oracle Team USA and Australian Challenger of Record, Hamilton Island Yacht Club, are still defining the rules and regulations for the next edition of the cup. Oracle are not expected to confirm the protocol until some time in the spring, which obviously makes it extremely difficult for the rest of us to prepare.

Ideally we would like to be finalising our budgets, raising the necessary funds and signing the necessary talent but that is easier said than done when you are not 100 per cent sure what you are signing them up to, how much money will be needed, or indeed where the event will take place.

The expectation is that it will be in San Francisco in foiling catamarans similar to the AC72s that produced such a spectacular show there last year, but nothing is certain.

In summary, we are on track, we have worked incredibly hard to reach this spot, we have raised a decent amount of money and we remain optimistic that we will be able to enter the team.

But there is still a long way to go. It remains vital that Oracle commit to cutting costs, as they have indicated they will.

One great positive is the continued partnership of our long-term sponsors JP Morgan who are backing our Extreme 40 campaign. It should be great fun. The series takes place over 11 months, spanning three continents and eight venues from Singapore at the end of next month to Sydney in December.

Our boat is already being shipped to Singapore so there will not be much time to prepare ahead of the first event but fortunately I have some decent crew members. My Beijing 2008 team-mates Paul Goodison and Pippa Wilson, both of them gold medallists at those Games, will be on board.

Goody will trim the mainsail and take on the role of tactician while Pippa will be ‘floater’. My old friend Matt Cornwell, with whom I have sailed a lot, will be bowman, looking after the front of the boat. The fifth member of the crew will be announced in due course.

The benefit of racing in this circuit is that it enables us to work with a number of different sailors and try to build relationships which could potentially work longer term in the America’s Cup.

We will be hoping to make big strides over the course of the year but we have to be realistic, although the boats are similar to AC45s, the Extreme Series courses are much shorter and more confined so it will take a while to get used to the style of sailing required.

The competition will also be fierce with another former Team GB Olympian, Leigh McMillan, going for a third Extreme 40 title at the helm of The Wave, Muscat, and entries from big teams such as Alinghi, Groupama and another Australian team closely allied to Hamilton Island. But I do not think a top-three finish is out of the question by the end of the year.

Other than the Extreme 40 Series the two major dates for the diary this year are the Round the Island Race on June 21 and, on Sept 21 the Bart Bash, which will hopefully be the largest sailing event ever when clubs and sailors from all over the world compete simultaneously in memory of Andrew Simpson, who died last year in an America’s Cup training accident.

As a trustee for the Andrew Simpson Foundation it has been both wonderful and humbling to see the response from the sailing community. It just goes to show in what esteem Bart was held.

Source: The Telegraph – January 8, 2014

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