The last time I checked, boats weren’t meant to fly. But then again, the last boat I boarded wasn’t a super-lightweight, carbonfibre craft piloted by Sir Ben Ainslie.
Welcome to the deep end of sailing: the America’s Cup World Series. A race like no other, where crews from every corner of the earth compete in fierce hull-to-hull racing in a bid to get their catamaran across the floating finish line first. Out here, it’s not about being the best sailor – it’s about being the best all round pilot, strategist, and strongman.
A few weekends ago saw the series come to Portsmouth, the home of the Land Rover BAR team, captained by Olympic Gold medalist Sir Ben Ainslie. A small, unassuming jetty in Portsmouth’s historic Naval quarter is home to the imposing Land Rover BAR headquarters. This multi-million pound cathedral to sailing innovation is more akin to a high-tech Formula 1 headquarters than a salt-stained sailing shed.
Out in the Solent, the Land Rover BAR team eased into position for the first race, sitting joint second with the cup defenders Oracle Team USA. But crossing the finish line of the final race on Sunday saw Land Rover BAR creep ahead in the standings, emerging as overall winners in the regatta. Other than it being a significant victory for the UK team, it’s a sign that Britain’s fortunes in the America’s Cup may be about to change. But to understand why, we’ll first need to cover some history.
The America’s Cup started in 1851 when Commodore John Cox Stephens and his six fellow crewmen built a schooner and sailed it to England in a bid to make some money competing in races and regattas. Upon arriving, he and his crew sailed to victory on board America – the name given to their vessel – around the Isle of Wight, finishing a hefty eight minutes in front of the next team. Reportedly, Queen Victoria, who had been watching the action from the shoreline, was so impressed with the performance, she made it a regular challenge. The America’s Cup race was born and to this day, since 1851, no British team has managed to prize the cup from (mainly) America’s grip.
But all could be about to change, especially if Land Rover BAR’s performance in the Portsmouth Regatta as part of the World Series is anything to go by. When the 35th America’s Cup comes around in 2017, all eyes will be on the Brits as they travel to Bermuda in search of victory. After 166 years of longing and waiting, the pressure’s on, Sir Ben. Let’s bring the cup home.