Ainslie on a mission for Queen and county

Sir Ben Ainslie is a man in a hurry, with a never-ending to-do list and not enough hours in the day.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 29th April 2017, 10:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 6:20 pm
Sir Ben Ainslie
Sir Ben Ainslie

It’s less than a month before Portsmouth-based Land Rover BAR start their campaign for sport’s oldest international trophy.

And Ainslie can hear the countdown clock getting louder and louder.

Unceasing and unremitting, it ticks down relentlessly. Every hour is precious, time is the most prized commodity and sleep, well, that can wait until late July.

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With four Olympic golds and an America’s Cup win in a sailing resume that is without parallel, Ainslie certainly knows what it takes to win.

Which is just as well because the America’s Cup is sport’s ultimate winner-takes-all showdown.

To the victor goes all the spoils, from the chance to make the rules, host the title defence and qualify straight to the next final.

When Queen Victoria, watching the very first race back in 1851, asked who was second, she received the reply: “there is no second, your Majesty”.

And not much has changed in the 166 years since, with a British boat still waiting for a winning moment.

Ainslie knows ending that streak won’t be easy.

The BAR skipper and team principal admitted it will be extra hard as a start-up team.

But he insisted the next month of preparation and planning can make a big difference to performance when they start their racing against close friend Iain Percy’s Swedish-backed Artemis.

‘There’s no more days off, no more time out – this is it now,’ said Ainslie.

‘We all want more time but it’s the one thing we can’t buy unfortunately.

‘As a new team it takes much longer, but I’m really proud of our design and technical group, they are a strong unit and our progress has been fantastic.

‘The question is can we get all our new developments on the boat in time and can we learn to get the maximum performance from it?

‘We’ve worked so hard for the last three years and it’s incredible what we’ve achieved in that time.

‘We are in it to win it, those are our expectations, but we know how tough it will be.

‘We’re a new team and we’ve been on the back foot but I believe we’ve really closed the gap on the others.

‘I think we can achieve a 10-per-cent performance gain in this final period, it’s the most critical time of the entire campaign.

‘I just hope we can learn to sail the boat in the time we’ve got left.

‘It’s been tough on our families and the next few weeks won’t be any easier.

‘We’ve already become a tight unit and we are all committed to doing this for Queen and country.’

All six America’s Cup teams have now set up camp in Bermuda and are undergoing final drills on the Great Sound – the spectacular race track that will be the background to close-quarter, high-speed racing in the weeks ahead.

Ainslie will compete twice against rivals from the USA, Sweden, France, Japan and New Zealand, with the top-four teams progressing to the play-off semi-finals with the American defender, Oracle USA, skippered by Jimmy Spithill, heading straight through to the final.

The team have set themselves up to be the most sustainable sports team in the world.

They have created an academy, from which 22-year-old Neil Hunter has already graduated, and a charity, the 1851 Trust with The Duchess of Cambridge as its royal patron, supporting education and careers in science, technology and engineering.

Ainslie was part of a multinational US crew that staged one of the greatest sporting comebacks in memory to win four years ago in San Francisco.

But this challenge can certainly be stamped with ‘Made in Britain’.

‘We’re about highlighting British sailing and the very best of British technology, and that’s important for the identity of the team,’ added Ainslie.

‘I’m lucky to have a fantastic team around me and my management style is to get the right people and give them space to make the right decisions.’

It’s 34 years since Australia II ended the longest-running winning streak in sporting history, wrestling the Auld Mug from the control of the New York Yacht Club for the first time in 132 years.

That day, Bob Hawke, the country’s prime minister, earned his place in the history books by saying any employer who sacked a staff member who skipped work on such a day of national festivity was a ‘bum’.

Ainslie knows the America’s Cup remains a last unscaled sporting summit – and knows success would transcend his sport.

The idea of a nation stopping to watch a sailboat race is far from a far-fetched fantasy.

‘I, more than anyone, know the significance of this event for our sporting and maritime history,’ said Ainslie.

“If this team wasn’t successful then I’m very confident we will get the job done at some point in the near future.’

Time will tell but time is waiting for no-one.

n Show your support for Land Rover BAR’s challenge to win the America’s Cup in Bermuda this summer on social media, with photos, videos and support messages to @LandRoverBAR with #BringTheCupHome