Sir Ben Ainslie gunning for repeat of success on Bermuda’s waters
Bermuda’s waters have proven to be happy hunting ground for Sir Ben Ainslie, having won countless titles throughout a sparkling career.
It is a record the most decorated Olympic sailor on the planet hopes to build upon when he and his fellow Great Britain team-mates rest their title on the line in the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess in the Great Sound on the weekend.
“Of course we’d love to come away with a win back on Bermuda waters,” Ainslie told The Royal Gazette. “We will give it our best for that. But at the same time it’s also about thinking long term about the overall season.”
The British team completed a stunning comeback to win last year’s inaugural regatta showcasing the wing-sailed foiling F50 catamaran designed for the 35th America’s Cup, which the island hosted in 2017.
Ainslie and his team-mates had double reason to celebrate, having also set a F50 speed record of 94.8km/h en route the clinching a second straight title in the global sailing league series.
“We had a good event here last year,” Ainslie added. “We had some issues in the season so in a way it was a kind of a frustrating end to the season for us. We are certainly looking to start off this season in a better way.
“We learnt a lot of lessons from last season which we need to take forward.
“It’s going to be a long season now with 11 events, and it’s about trying to find that consistency.”
Former Olympic and world champion is delighted to be back at the venue where he savoured glory in the Laser and International One Design classes competing at the Youth World Championships, and in the Bermuda Gold Cup.
“It’s really great to be back,” he said. “Of course such great memories sailing and being based here for many different events from Youth World Championships, to Bermuda Gold Cups to America’s Cup and then now SailGP.
“I really love sailing on the Great Sound. It’s one of the best spots anywhere in the world for these kind of foiling boats.”
Great Britain were among the teams putting their F50s through their paces in the Great Sound in strong breezes yesterday.
“Great conditions and looks like reasonable breeze for the rest of this week,” he added.
“It’s still a bit far out to see what it will be like for the weekend. Hopefully we get some good breeze coming through.”
Two new teams, Switzerland and Canada, have joined the league while the fleet of F50s has undergone subtle modifications for Season 3.
“It’s not a huge amount of difference to the boats this season from when we were racing in San Francisco six weeks ago,” Ainslie said. “There’s obviously a couple of new teams with Switzerland and Canada, which is great to see.
“The extra boats is going to make the racecourse that much tighter and more intense; hopefully more exciting for the spectators.
“From what I have seen, they both have been going well on the water.
“They seem like they have had a good couple of week’s practice in the build-up to this and making use of that. I expect them both to be going well.”
Also among the changes for Season 3 is Ainslie’s boat, which is sporting a new colour scheme.
“This is our new branding and identity, which is based around protect our future and obviously SailGP has a massive sustainability approach with the Impact League and so on,” Ainslie added.
“We really wanted to back that up with our team.
Our purpose partner is the 1851 Trust, which we actually set up around the team for the America’s Cup and that has a strong education platform.”
Among the teams practising alongside the British yesterday were United States, Denmark and the Canadians, led respectively by helmsmen Jimmy Spithill, Nicolai Sehested and Phil Robertson.
“It was awesome; we had a great day,” Spithill said.
“The morning session Japan was borrowing our boat and then we got the afternoon session, which I think was just fantastic as soon as that last sort of storm cell went through.”
Sehested said the range of conditions worked in his team’s favour as they fine-tune their preparations.
“We had a bit of everything which is good settings and testing how we set up the boat,” he added.
“Mixed conditions is generally good for testing.”
Robertson and his team-mates have been placing a lot of their emphasis on basic manoeuvres such as tacking, gybing and straight-line stability.
“It is a difficult boat to master,” he said.
“So we are focusing on the basics first, and also a real understanding of how everything works.”
Like Ainslie, Spithill is equally as thrilled to be back on island ,having spent considerable time here as helmsman of defender Oracle Team USA in the lead-up to the 35th America’s Cup.
“It’s so cool to be back and we really miss the island,” Spithill said.
“It’s nothing like flying in and you start seeing the roofs; it’s just so cool.
“I just have so many friends here, so many awesome memories.”
Racing will be held on Saturday and Sunday.
The regatta consists of five fleet races and the winner-takes-all final. Teams will earn points, with the top three at the end of fleet racing qualifying for the final.