News this week of government backing for Portsmouth-based Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) brings a British challenge for the America’s Cup a giant step closer to reality.
The £7.5 million pledged by PM David Cameron, along with an additional £1.4m from Portsmouth City Council, acknowledges the fact that significant investment is required to reap the huge potential benefits that can come with America’s Cup success.
New Zealand, for instance, splashed out some 30m dollars (£19m) in government subsidies hoping to bring the contest for the world’s oldest international sporting trophy back to the country.
The basis for Kiwi investment was boosted by a recent report on Team New Zealand which found that its base in Auckland created 1,000 jobs and brought an 88m dollar boost to the local economy.
Arithmetic like that made Portsmouth’s decision to green-light BAR’s Camber Dock planning application a no-brainer, the sensitivities of some Old Portsmouth residents notwithstanding.
Comments from BAR that the only other contender for a UK-base was Southampton are also likely to have focused minds.
Speaking in Downing Street after the announcement, Sir Ben Ainslie skilfully ticked all the boxes.
He said: ‘Portsmouth has a great maritime heritage and we felt it was a natural home for the team’s permanent base in the UK.
‘There is excellent access to the water for the team’s training and to host future America’s Cup events, with fantastic spectator viewpoints.
‘We hope through our journey to bring the cup home to Britain we will inspire more young people to get involved in the sport, along with supporting the growth of the marine sector in the Solent area to match the country’s F1 innovation hub.’
The F1 reference goes some way to explaining the eye-watering sums required to mount an effective America’s Cup challenge – £60m has emerged as the benchmark figure – which is an inexplicable amount to many of the non-sailing public.
The America’s Cup has always absorbed huge amounts of money and the latest generation of ultra-hi-tech, high-speed foiling catamarans has taken spending to new levels.
The foils themselves, along with the complex solid wing sails and numerous other components, offer a design environment every bit as challenging as F1.
It’s not accidental that Red Bull designer Adrian Newey has been linked to BAR.
Software billionaire Larry Ellison bankrolled the 203-strong Oracle Team USA, and without his deep pockets they would not have been able to refine their flying cat to dramatically overturn an 8-1 deficit against Team New Zealand.
Ainslie’s pivotal role aboard the winning boat has been widely recognised, but the simple fact remains that Oracle found race-winning boatspeed in the second half of the regatta which the Kiwis could not match.
The challenger series aside, a British yacht has not contested an America’s Cup race proper since 1964 – and that ended in a 4-0 whitewash by the USA.
Ainslie, cash permitting, is out to change all that.