Sunday 17 December 2017

Sailing: Ainslie hit hard by Oracle choice of America's Cup boat

WM Nixon

Three-time Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie should be feeling good this week. Sailing in the balmy conditions of Malaysia, the hyper-focused English skipper has become the new world match-racing champion, beating France's Mathieu Richard in a final that saw Ainslie at his ferocious best.

And it's far from a flash in the pan. It has since been confirmed that Ainslie is now first in the world rankings, with second slot held by New Zealand's Adam Minoprio, while Richard is third and Torvar Mirsky of Australia fourth.

With another Briton, Ian Williams, ranked at five, you'd think everything in the British match racing world is smelling of roses. Not so. As with almost everything to do with the sharpest end of international sailing, it all eventually points to the America's Cup. And with the withdrawal and winding-down of Britain's Team Origin Challenge last autumn, the top British match racers are faced with a blank wall across their career path.

For Ainslie, the decision by the defending BMW Oracle team in California to stage the next America's Cup series in 72ft high-tech catamarans was a double whammy. It moved the series beyond the capability of British resources, and put the sailing into an entirely new type of boat.

Over the past 12 years, Ainslie has honed his skills in heavy, narrow mono-hulls, specially developed for the closest possible match racing. Were the next America's Cup to be held in these boats -- as had been widely expected until a year ago -- Ainslie would have been one of the top contenders.

However, sheer speed and technology are now probably more important than match racing skill. Certainly it will be spectacular to watch in 2013 but by changing the boat type an entire generation of highly trained match-racing helmsmen are being disenfranchised through lack of access to the new machines.

Meanwhile, the techies are making hay. Ireland's Ian Moore was on the Team Origin squad as a navigator-tactician. But like any good tactician, he had a sixth sense of the way things were developing and responded favourably last spring when an offer was made for his talents from the BMW Oracle camp. Now comfortably established at Oracle, he was 'lent' to the American TP52 Lucky from Chicago to be navigator in the Middle Sea Race recently. They won, and Lucky's crew were lavish in their praise for their guest navigator's calls in a notoriously difficult tactical race.

The pre-Christmas stages of the winter sailing leagues for keelboats concluded last weekend at Crosshaven and Howth, with the O'Leary family notching yet another award in Cork, this time with their 'cruiserfied' 1720 Sportsboat Antix Beag, while Robert Michael was the Class One winner at Howth with his classic Sun Fizz 40 Mystique.

It was freezing there, but in Namibia where it's the season for hot sailing in big breezes, speed records have been tumbling. The newly ratified world record is 55.65 knots set by Rob Douglas of the US -- sailing a kitesurf on October 28. He broke the previous record set by Seb Catalan of France.

Irish Independent

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