Portsmouth prepares for America’s Cup bonanza

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Imagine watching in awe as world-class sailing boats soar through the Solent at speeds of more than 40mph.

You’re one of hundreds of thousands of visitors stood on Southsea Common, just 50m away from the action, while in the backdrop there’s a music concert and a stack of entertainment going on for all the family.

Sir Ben Ainslie

Sir Ben Ainslie

All of this and more will become a stunning reality when the America’s Cup World Series – an international series of regattas leading up to the competition’s finals – comes to Portsmouth’s seafront next year.

As reported yesterday, the regattas are happening in the city from July 23 to 26 and again in 2016 from July 21 to 24 and is expected to pump £120m into the economy.

The other confirmed world series locations are Cagliari in Sardinia, and Bermuda, off the east coast of the United States.

And sailing leaders who have helped paved the way for the huge occasion to come to Portsmouth came together at the Oxo Tower in London yesterday to celebrate the announcement.

They included Olympic sailing hero Sir Ben Ainslie, whose British America’s Cup team will be based at its new headquarters at the Camber in Old Portsmouth before competing on the water.

Sir Ben told The News the world series will create a festival atmosphere in Portsmouth and will not just be an occasion for pure sailing enthusiasts.

‘There’s going to be a carnival atmosphere over the four-day event,’ he said.

‘These boats will be amazing to see.

‘For families it will be a real day out.

‘It’s absolutely brilliant for the area.

‘It’s had a tough time recently, what with the job losses at BAE Systems, and the maritime industry is a key part of the economy.

‘If we can help create jobs through the team and provide opportunities for these people in the wider maritime industry that will have a great benefit to the local economy.’

The buzz of the America’s Cup will also be felt at Portsmouth’s naval base as it will be home to competition boats when they are not racing.

Vessels will be kept in a 500m basin of water north of the stern of HMS Victory, and visitors to the Historic Dockyard will be able to watch them be hoisted in and out by a crane.

The arrangement has been made with the Royal Navy and does not affect where its warships are based.

Leslie Greenhalgh, events director for Team Origin, which is co-ordinating the Portsmouth world series, hopes it will be best thing to happen to the city.

‘We hope it will be,’ she said.

‘We have already seen the Trafalgar 200 celebrations here and there is the Great South Run.

‘It is a place that is quite experienced with events and how to benefit from them and that’s good for us.’

Team Origin chairman Sir Keith Mills, who helped to ensure the 2012 Olympics came to London, said: ‘What we have been able to secure next July and in 2016 are world-class events. We expect hundreds and hundreds of thousands of visitors.

‘Not only will it be a four-day festival of sport, it will showcase the UK as a major destination for sporting events. The race area will be right in front of people’s eyes.

‘The boats will be coming in front of spectators within 50m at 45mph.

‘It will provide a huge economic benefit to the whole Solent region and the city of Portsmouth.’

Ben Ainslie Racing chairman Sir Charles Dunstone said the opportunity for commercial partners to get involved was immense and that he can’t wait to see how many spectators visit Portsmouth.

‘The last time the world series came to Britain was in Plymouth in 2011, and we saw 150,000 live spectators, and that was without a British team being involved,’ he said.

Prime minister David Cameron has also backed the project.

The government provided £7.5m towards the creation of the BAR race base in the city.

In a statement read by Councillor Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, Mr Cameron said: ‘Sir Ben’s project is truly fantastic news for Portsmouth and the Solent.’

She added: ‘The positives for Britain and Portsmouth are immense’

David Williams, the council’s chief executive, said the world series will be a golden opportunity for the city to showcase everything it has to offer, and says local businesses will reap the benefits of having an international occasion on their doorstep.

‘It will be a very positive, upbeat, dramatic showcase of the city which is what we need,’ he said. ‘It gives all the businesses the opportunity to work off that.

‘For every taxi driver, for every retailer, it will be a huge boost.’

James Ralls, organiser of Victorious Festival, which this year generated more than £4m for the local economy, came along to the launch.

‘This is something that will be international,’ he said.

‘Everyone will know about this and it puts Portsmouth on the map.’

Peter Cardy, secretary of Gosport Marine Scene, will help ensure the town’s maritime businesses capitalise by offering assistance to crews needing equipment and accommodation.

To read The News’ view on this click here.