1851: The year Britain challenged America to a 51-mile race around the Isle of Wight and the year Britain lost. Since then, it has tried but failed to win back The America’s Cup. INEOS is now on board. It loves a challenge. And so does Sir Ben Ainslie, who will skipper the British boat in 2021. Could this be a match made in heaven? Only time will tell
THE most successful sailor in Olympic history is leading the British challenge to win one of the oldest trophies for the most competitive yacht race in the world.
INEOS will be there to make sure he can access the best technology to build the best boat at the start line in three years’ time. But then it will be up to Ben Ainslie to bring the cup back to Britain.
Sir Ben, who has won four Olympic golds and one silver, and has been world champion eight times, described INEOS’ offer to support the team, including the cost of the two boats necessary to compete in The 2021 America’s Cup as an amazing boost for British sport.
With backing from INEOS and the team that has been brought together, he said, Britain had its best-ever chance to win sailing’s most coveted trophy for the first time in the race’s 167-year history.
“Britain has never won the trophy, despite founding the competition and despite trying many times,” said INEOS Chairman Jim Ratcliffe. “With the team we have assembled, we believe we can get a fully competitive boat to the start line. After that, it’s all down to the fine art of sailing.”
INEOS TEAM UK will be representing the Royal Yacht Squadron, the very club which challenged the New Yorkers to that very first race in 1851.
“We are very much looking forward to winning back this oldest international yachting trophy,” said Jamie Sheldon, Commodore, Royal Yacht Squadron.
INEOS’ decision to invest £110 million was made after a mutual friend arranged for Jim and Ben to meet in a pub in London.
The conversation inevitably turned to the elusive America’s Cup, often described as the Formula One of sailing. Later that evening – after what turned out to be the most expensive gin and tonic in history – they parted company.
The next day Jim rang Ben to offer him all the money he and a crew would need to win back sporting’s oldest trophy. “It was fantastic,” said Ben. “But I was a little taken aback.”
The challenge was too great an opportunity for INEOS to let slip by. And Jim sensed Ben had the tenacity, the skill and the desire to win.
With the money in the bank, the team can now focus on building a boat to outmatch and outsmart their rivals.
“There is a lot of pressure,” said Ben. “But there is a desire among the team to be part of something successful, a desire to win. We all feel it is about getting the job done.”
INEOS’ investment is the largest ever made by Britain in an America’s Cup challenge.
“We have taken on many serious projects in the past but none more exciting than this,” said Jim.
At a press conference at The Prospect of Whitby, London’s oldest riverside pub, Jim described Ben as the Usain Bolt of sailing.
“To be successful in The America’s Cup you need a great driver, a very experienced designer, and team and to be fully funded,” he said. “It is a marriage between very sophisticated technology and sport.”
INEOS will be bringing together the world’s best designers, boat builders, engineers, and manufacturing know-how to support Ben as he and his team try to develop the fastest carbon fibre foiling monohull yacht in the world.
And that matters.
For what all previous winners have shared in common has been the resources to innovate.
Britain’s challenge will consist of two, 75ft yachts designed by New Zealander Nick Holroyd, who was one of the architects behind his country’s winning boat in the last America’s Cup.
Ben will skipper the yacht, which could reach speeds of up to 60mph, and British Olympic sailing champion Giles Scott will be the team’s tactician.
INEOS TEAM UK’s CEO is America’s Cup legend Grant Simmer, who has competed in 10 America’s Cups and won four. His most recent victory was in 2013 when the Oracle Team USA – with Ben as tactician – managed to fight back from an 8-1 deficit to win the trophy.
“We want to do everything we can to bring this trophy back to Britain where it belongs,” said Jim.
Older and Wiser
NEW Zealand will be the setting for the 2021 America’s Cup.
Sir Ben Ainslie will be 43 when he takes the helm of the INEOS-backed boat and negotiates the 40-minute fixed course off Auckland in a series of races.
Is that considered too old?
No, says Ben. What matters is experience. How to handle the yacht when the going gets tough. “The guys doing all the grinding need to be fit and they will be all be in their mid to late 30s,” said Ben.
For Ben, it is the ultimate team sport where everyone has a clear and important role to play.
That said, there is room for one other. And Jim Ratcliffe could very well find himself being offered that slot.
“Without a doubt, Jim would have made a great sailor,” said Ben. “He is tough physically, he is focussed and has the desire to win.”
Thankfully the 12th crew member does not have to do anything other than observe the 11 crewmen in action. So all Jim would need to do is hang on. Tightly.
How America Won the Cup
THE USA has dominated The America’s Cup for years.
But Ben Ainslie said it was little wonder because the winner can change the rules – and America did so. Often.
“They insisted that all competitors had to sail to the start of the race, which meant sailing across the Atlantic,” said Ben. “For that, you needed a heavier boat to withstand the journey, so they had a stranglehold on the competition.”
America successfully defended The America’s Cup for 132 years.
Finally, their run ended in 1983 when America lost the trophy for the first time when Australia II defeated Liberty off Newport, Rhode Island.
“Since then the Swiss, Australians and Kiwis have held The America’s Cup, affectionately known as the ‘Auld Mug’,” said Jim. “But we think it’s time to bring it home.”