Ben Ainslie has a reputation for sometimes making an indifferent start in major regattas – his recent Olympic experience being a case in point.
And so it goes this week in San Francisco, where the world’s most successful Olympic sailor has exchanged his single-handed Finn dinghy for a high-speed AC45 catamaran with a four-strong crew in the America’s Cup World Series.
After the first couple of fleet races the Hampshire ace was down in eighth in the 11-boat competition after placing 10th and fifth. But that is only half the story.
As anyone who saw him pursue Jonas Hogh-Christensen around a committee boat before the start of his ultimately victorious medal race in Weymouth can attest, one-on-one and Ainslie is a formidable opponent.
So in the match-racing element of the US regatta he is through to the quarter-finals after two straight race defeats of fellow gold medallist Nathan Outteridge at the helm of Team Korea.
‘Clearly, we’re very pleased but that was a day like no other so far – I think I’m still trying to take it all in,’ Ainslie blogged after racing aboard his JP Morgan-sponsored cat.
‘What’s becoming very clear already is that when the breeze is up, the pace is incredible,’ he added of his first real racing experience of the wingsail multihulls.
‘The whole way round the guys are working flat out just handling the boat.
‘No sooner have we set up for one leg it’s time to turn a corner, deploy the gennaker, trim on, hit the boundary, furl, gybe, unfurl, swap the boards trim on and hike out. Sometimes it’s less than a minute before we are doing the operation again, especially if we’re on port coming back at our opponents downwind.
‘As the helmsman I’m the only one who really has any time to look around and make some decisions.
‘I was genuinely amazed at how fast things happened and how close the racing was.’
Team Korea includes Ainslie’s old Finn sparring partner Giles Scott.
The Korean yacht, nicknamed the White Tiger, also has a connection with the Black Cats of the Premier League. It sports the Sunderland badge on its hull as part of a joint venture. Korean striker Ji Dong Won is in the Sunderland squad.
Ainslie, meanwhile, was due to face Emirates Team New Zealand’s Dean Barker in a best-of-three match for a place in the semi-finals late yesterday.
He has also sought to clarify the ‘confusion’ over his participation in the 2016 Olympics – having seemingly been clear Weymouth would be his swansong.
‘Of course I’d love to be in Rio but there are so many other challenges and factors that need to fall into place before I can make that decision,’ he said.
‘So at this stage nothing has changed – I’m not ruling anything in, or anything out.’
That’s clear then.