Sir Ben Ainslie gets Portsmouth sailors Team Ineos back on the Solent

AFTER spending weeks apart in isolation, sailors from Portsmouth’s top racing team are finally back on the water.
Sir Ben AinslieSir Ben Ainslie
Sir Ben Ainslie

Ineos Team UK, captained by Sir Ben Ainslie, is gearing up to take part in the 2021 America’s Cup, being hosted by New Zealand.

Although many of this year’s events have been cancelled due to coronavirus, preparations are well and truly under way – and today, the team will be entering Solent waters in their new racing yacht for the first time.

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To get back into training, the team has implemented a number of social distancing measures, such as new cleaning protocols and reducing the number of crew members on board the vessel.

Ineos Team UK sailing the test boat Britannia on the Solent in October last yearIneos Team UK sailing the test boat Britannia on the Solent in October last year
Ineos Team UK sailing the test boat Britannia on the Solent in October last year

Prior to lockdown, the team was in Sardinia for a shakedown of the new AC75 – a 75ft sailboat to fit new regulations for the 36th America’s Cup.

Sir Ben said: ‘It’s been a difficult period for all of us.

‘We were in Sardinia at the end of February and were meant to have a race there in early April; that was obviously cancelled and we had to get home as quickly as possible.

‘Ineos were amazing in getting everyone back home, it was a huge weight off our shoulders.’

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Once they got back to England, the sailors started training from home, with engineers and designers also working from their homes.

On the construction side, a second boat was still being built in Hythe, Hampshire, and the Portsmouth base became a manufacturing hub for personal protective equipment (PPE).

Due to the halt in testing caused by coronavirus, Sir Ben says the team has a ‘backlog’ of testing to complete – but is determined to plough through it in their bid to bring the America’s Cup to Portsmouth.

‘There’s an awful lot of work to do,’ he said.

‘Because of that we’re all very keen to get back out onto the water.

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‘But there’s a lot to consider and communication is key – we’re in constant talks with the Queen’s Harbour Master, lifeboat crews and Coastguard, so that they all know where we are and what we’re going to do.’

Chief among the team’s new social distancing measures is a heatmap for every sailor, to ensure everyone stays two metres apart, alongside an electrical grinder to replace two of the crew members.

With two trenches in the sailboat, the team will be split 50-50 between the starboard and port sides of the vessel.

‘Sometimes a couple of us move from side-to-side, so we still have to figure that out in terms of social distancing,’ Sir Ben said.

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‘For us, much like other industries, it has become an everyday focus.

‘In the grand scheme of things there are people doing more important things, such as the heroes on the front line of the NHS – but we still can’t wait to go back to racing.’