SAN DIEGO (AP) — Sir Ben Ainslie is so keen to win back the America’s Cup for Britain that he’ll spend the weekend sailing with and mentoring a crew of young countrymen who one day could be competing for the oldest trophy in international sports.
Ainslie, one of the world’s most accomplished sailors, will serve as helmsman of Land Rover BAR Academy in the seventh stop of the Extreme Sailing Series, which will be contested in foiling 32-foot catamarans on San Diego Bay from Friday through Sunday.
The academy is an offshoot of Land Rover BAR, the team Ainslie led in the 35th America’s Cup earlier this year in Bermuda.
Land Rover BAR had a rough go in the challenger trials, losing in the semifinals to Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis went on to win the challenger finals and then stunned defending champion Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup match.
“It was kind of a bit of a whirlwind campaign, you know, four years went in an instant, really,” Ainslie said Thursday. “Certainly looking back, clearly even though we were a new team we set out to try to win. We didn’t do that and in some ways it was quite painful, but there were a lot of learnings from that campaign and we know we will be stronger next time around. I guess that frustration is what motivates us to come back stronger next time. That’s really the driving force for us now.”
Part of that process is to prepare the next generation of sailors for the sport’s marquee regatta. The academy sailors are 23 and younger.
“We’d like to hope that some of them would make it through to the senior team this next Cup,” Ainslie said.
Ainslie points to Neil Hunter as a success story. Hunter was promoted from the academy team to the senior team before the America’s Cup.
“We’ve had some great talent coming through,” Ainslie said. “It’s a proven pathway now for these youngsters and to see someone like Neil come through, I think it’s great for all of the other guys to see that if they do a good job, then the potential’s there. It’s not just paying lip service to having an academy team. It’s really working.”
There are few sailors better to learn from than the 40-year-old Ainslie. He’s the most-decorated sailor in Olympic history with five medals, including winning four straight golds. He was knighted in March 2013, seven months after capping his final Olympics with a stirring comeback in home waters. Later that year, he helped Oracle Team USA stage one of the biggest comebacks in sports to retain the Auld Mug.
Ainslie then set out to become the first to hoist the America’s Cup in victory for Britain. His countrymen have been trying and failing to win back the silver trophy ever since the schooner America won it by beating a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight in 1851.
“It’s that history of the Cup, the prestige for us and the fact we’ve never won it and it started there,” Ainslie said. “It’s a great challenge and if we are ultimately successful in that it would be a real achievement for British sport and sailing.”
Among those hoping for a call-up for the next America’s Cup, set for early 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand, is Rob Bunce, 23. He skippered Land Rover BAR Academy to victory in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup in June and will skipper the team here this weekend while Ainslie helms.
Having Ainslie sail with the academy team for the first time in this series “is a pretty big deal, obviously,” Bunce said. “He’s been really a force in youth sailing into the America’s Cup. The opportunity’s sort of created by him for us so we’re super grateful for that. For a lot of guys on board, he’s been a hero and someone they’ve really looked up to. It’s awesome.”
The America’s Cup is shifting from 50-foot foiling catamarans back to monohulls. Concepts for the new class will be unveiled later this year, with more details released in the spring.
Ainslie said he’s OK with the shift.
“I guess on the face of it it’s a more traditional approach,” Ainslie said. “From what I can understand, I think this will be in a monohull something like we’ve never seen before. Therefore it still will hopefully fulfill the requirements for being fast and exciting, especially for young people coming through. I’m positive about it.”
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