So how much sailing do you do in a year? Team Ineos has just published their sailing log for the w/c 30th November and it’s eye watering stuff. Over a period of five days out on the water they covered 908.68km and executed 230 tacks, 283 gybes and 197 bear-aways. That’s more than a lot. They are certainly put in the effort in this once-in-a-lifetime-money-no-object shot at winning the Cup for Britain. Ratty’s Rita will be one shot to pieces lump of carbon in three months’ time but can this team be victorious in the white-hot heat of the AC. I am praying they can as bringing the Cup back to the UK would inject the competition with an impetus that understandably has been lacking this cycle.
Covid 19 has seen to most sporting events this year and for those that are going ahead, the public is relatively circumspect. I heard a pretty damning verdict of Britain’s nautical hero and knight of the realm, Ben Ainslie, by a football commentator who called him “the most pointless sporting celebrity, sailing his little boat around in circles.” This was an ex Chelsea footballer so brains are not necessarily his strong suit but it gets you wondering what the public perception would be if Ben and the team were successful.
Would we see a ticker tape parade down Oxford Street? Not a chance. Would they be dancing in the streets of Portsmouth? Nah, sorry. The best we can hope for is a trip to Number 10 Downing Street to meet a clueless, shambling Boris and perhaps an audience with the newly vaccinated Queen. The only place where I can conceivably see a modicum of celebration is Cowes – the home of British yachting and where it all started. As shots in the arm go, Cowes would be buzzing as sailing is in the blood there – almost uniquely in the UK.
But the economic benefits of a Cup in Britain are not to be under-estimated. Whilst we all love Auckland as a venue, it’s a bit remote. The people are the nicest on the planet though and they’ve done a terrific job getting this one over the line but this cycle is mired in politics at a Government level with all sorts of questions being asked over the injection of public money into Team New Zealand. Reading the reports in the local papers down there, I get the impression that everyone is tiring of the Cup. Covid has sapped enthusiasm understandably; and whilst so many people struggle in the new world and many more have had their lives upended or lost loved ones, it’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy to an event that soaks up so much money and is viewed as a luxury ill-affordable in the new-normal.
Fast forward to 2024 or 2025, the world will (hopefully) be a different place with green shoots of recovery all round. A Cup in Britain would capture a huge amount of attention. My guess is at least 10 challengers – minimum. You’d have at least three US teams, maybe four, the Italians would field two, the Swedes would be back for sure and there’s no way the French would miss an opportunity to bloody the UK nose on home waters. We could well see the Chinese blowing some cash and ze Germans would be tempted alongside any number of fast-money syndicates from the middle east. And how about a Canadian challenge? It has been a while. How cool would it be to get Team Moose back in?
Will it happen? Will the Cup come home and be proudly displayed in the trophy room at the Royal Yacht Squadron? I think it’s a tough ask. The old adage that ‘if you win the Cup, you make the rules’ has played out beautifully in favour of Team New Zealand this cycle. They look six months, at least, ahead of the Brits in the design department. Their sailors are the All Blacks of this game – but they are beatable and Ben Ainslie is one tough cookie when the pressure is on. If you had to put your life on a sailor, my money would be on Ben over Burling any day but this is the America’s Cup and raw talent doesn’t guarantee success.
But then there’s the cash factor. Ratty’s billions are compelling. If Team Ineos need to radically change their boat, they can do that. Money can circumvent design faults quickly and this time I am reminded of Dennis Conner’s “No excuse to lose” mantra. The Brits have no excuse to lose this time – more than at any other time in history.
The next few months will be fascinating. Come on Team Ineos, bring it home!