Royal sail of approval
The sails of Britain’s first America’s Cup challenge since 1958 were filled with regal air on Tuesday when the Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine, helped launched Sir Ben Ainslie’s bid for the Auld Mug at Royal Museums Greenwich.
A keen sailor herself, the Duchess ensured the announcement of Ben Ainslie Racing’s (BAR) bid to challenge for yachting’s greatest prize in 2017 went from interesting back page news to essential front page reading.
BAR will represent Yacht Squadron Racing, which is affiliated to the Royal Yacht Squadron, and means the America’s Cup will return to Cowes – where it all began 163 years ago – should Ainslie successfully prize the Auld Mug of James Spithill and Oracle Team USA.
A four-time Olympic Games gold medalist, Ainslie sealed his status as Great Britain’s greatest sailor when he was rushed on board as tactician with Oracle 8-1 down to Emirates Team New Zealand in last year’s 34th America’s Cup Match in San Francisco. The defenders went on to complete arguably the greatest comeback in sports, winning 9-8.
“This is the last great historic sporting prize never won by Great Britain,” Ainslie said. “It has always been my ambition to mount a home challenge. The time is right and I am hugely encouraged by the support we are getting, not least from the Duchess of Cambridge. I learned a great deal aboard Oracle in San Francisco and I would not be challenging if I did not believe we have a real chance of winning this time.”
Ainslie’s hand in Oracle’s spectacular 9-8 victory last year provided the springboard for the sailing Knight to return to the UK and seek support for a British effort. The first meetings last October were with Sir Charles Dunstone and Sir Keith Mills. Subsequent backing came in the form of Chris Bake, Peter Dubens, Lord Irvine Laidlaw, Ian Taylor and Jon Wood. Ex-head of the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV and a keen sailor, Lord Michael Grade was asked and agreed to take on the role as an independent board member alongside Linklaters Chairman and Senior Partner Robert Elliott.
Technical Director and two-time America’s Cup winner Andy Claughton (GBR) will lead the design team. Initial signings include six-time America’s Cup winners Dirk Kramers (NED/USA) and four times winner Clay Oliver (USA). Designer and performance optimization expert Jason Ker (GBR); Aero and Hydrodynamics specialist Rodrigo Azcueta (ARG); Hydrofoiling Catamaran specialist (and America’s Cup winner with BMW Oracle for the 33rd America’s Cup) Benjamin Muyl (FRA) are already on board.
The Sailing Team Manager will be the highly experienced New Zealander and three-time America’s Cup winner, Jonathan Macbeth who sailed with Ainslie in both the 2007 and 2013 America’s Cups. Other signings at this early stage include Britain’s David Carr and Nick Hutton who both raced with Luna Rossa in the 34th America’s Cup, Andy McLean (NZL) who was part of the Artemis Racing team in 2013 and former World Match Race Champion, Matt Cornwall (GBR).
The rest of the management team is made up of James Stagg, who takes the role of Shore Team Manager; Andy Hindley has joined as Chief Operating Officer, a position he also held with the America’s Cup Race Management organisation for the event in San Francisco; Ainslie’s long-term Commercial Manager, Jo Grindley heads up the Commercial, Marketing, Communications and Events teams.
Ainslie helped Oracle fight back from 8-1 down against Team NZ to win the 34th America’s Cup 9-8 in San Francisco last year.
Said Sir Charles Dunstone, Chairman of BAR’s Board: “This campaign is about righting a wrong. We have never won it. We have an amazing maritime history. The Cup has to come home, we have to do that.”
The 35th America’s Cup will be raced in new foiling, wing-sail powered AC62 catamarans (with a crew of eight) and will open with a three year racing program from 2015 to 2017 with every race counting towards qualification and/or points in the final America’s Cup Match.
At least six America’s Cup World Series events per year in 2015 and 2016 will be raced in the AC45 class which BAR contested ahead of AC34. All teams have an opportunity to host an event in their home country.
An America’s Cup Qualifiers series will be staged in 2017 involving all teams, with a bonus point in the America’s Cup Match at stake. This is to be followed by a top-four Challenge finals series ahead of the America’s Cup Match against Oracle Team USA in 2017 at a venue still to be announced.
The new AC62 yacht – a scaled down version of the AC72s raced in AC34 – will be raced in all events in 2017. The Protocol for AC35 was negotiated between OracleTeam US (Golden Gate Yacht Club) and Team Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club, the Challenger of Record. It also includes a crew nationality rule requiring at least 25 percent of the AC62 crew to be nationals of the country of their challenge.
Golden Gate Yacht Club has shortlisted four venues – San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago and Bermuda – to host the 2017 America’s Cup finals. – Kent Gray is Managing Editor of Boat Owner Middle East.