Good things are happening in the sport. The right people are getting involved and every time a significant announcement is made, it secures jobs and prospects for sailors, shore-crew, logistics teams, marketeers, boat builders and suppliers.
So the news that Ben Ainslie has exercised his franchise buy-out option with Larry Ellison to secure the British SailGP Team with the support of one of the greatest, yet unheralded and reserved benefactors in Chris Bake, is welcome news. I had a number of texts yesterday from friends in the pro ranks telling me just what a great guy Chris is. I don’t know him personally but anyone supporting sailing gets my vote and thanks. Top move by both Chris and Ben.
Equally, I was pretty blown away with an announcement by the Junior Offshore Group of a serious commitment to their nascent JOG Generation programme that aims to solve the tricky problem of attracting the next generations into offshore and coastal sailing.
They launched the programme a few months ago, mid-season of their fabulous schedule, and now they’ve gone one massive step forward by attracting Shirley Robertson OBE, Dee Caffari MBE, Henry Bomby, Pip Hare and Tapio Lehtinen to give up their time for a series of webinars.
Anyone under the age of 25 who’s a member of Generation JOG (it’s free to join) can sign up to the online forums and get advice, guidance, insight and a mighty steer from these titans of our sport. What a fabulous example of giving back. Congratulations JOG – they just keep on smashing it.
And on top of the news above – it’s a bit of a news day today – comes the announcement from SailGP about the new Women’s Pathway Program (WPP) which will put six female athletes onto the F50’s for the Cadiz Grand Prix. Now I know that people even at the apex of our sport are circumspect about mandates but come on, this works and really adds something to the sport.
I also know of female athletes who just want to be there on pure merit but as Russell Coutts says: “It is our responsibility as a global league to ensure we create a culture and sporting championship that has gender equity. It is no secret that there is currently an experience gap among women at the top of the sport and so far this season we have embedded female athletes in each of our teams to gain vital experience. But, we recognize we have to go further to close the gap and work quicker to accelerate change, which is why we are taking this next step. It is imperative to break existing boundaries and create a more inclusive environment.”
I agree with that. All credit to Russ and the gang. Mandates work. Pathways work.
The depressing piece of news however, that splashed across the British media late last night, was the amicable divorce of Ernesto Bertarelli and his wife Kirsty. The focus, naturally for the press, was on the £350m settlement and a £52m house on Lake Geneva but with three children involved, they are what really matter in all of this. Nasty business divorce, even at the uber-wealth level but with Alinghi coming back into the Cup, in a sporting sense, we could well have an ultra-focused Ernesto in the Great Game once again and that’s a mighty prospect.
We’re already hearing of quite a team forming on the design side for Alinghi and every day there are rumours around big name sailor signings – Burling, Tuke, Slingsby, Outteridge (pick a name and make a case), whatever, it’s absolutely great for the America’s Cup if Ernesto is back in and competitive.
Whether it will it be a pure Swiss challenge as an ’emerging nation’, Italian with a buy in/out of Luna Rossa or, as some are suggesting, an Australian challenge again as an ’emerging nation’, we will have to wait and see next week. Chinese? Who knows? What we know for certain is that Red Bull will be providing the technology and marketing support and that’s going to be amazing to watch. Sailing’s a very good antidote to divorce – welcome back to your sailing family Ernesto.
And what of Team New Zealand? Well I contacted them last night and and they seem pretty cool and working away. Nothing major to report. No panic. Grant was standing by his words as reported on the excellent Stuff.co.nz report by Duncan Johnstone and recognised quite openly to me that the Ineos/Mercedes tie up was impressive. Interestingly, Grant picked up on the humility and the new approach of the team as I reported here on Monday evening and it’s clearly going down well and not unrecognised in Cup circles. Ineos Britannia is the stand-out challenger right now with a programme rooted in continuity, engineering and sporting excellence. It’s a heck of a combination and a challenge to get squarely behind.
Meanwhile, the venue decision is ‘progressing’ and it’s all eyes on the Protocol where we are not expecting major changes but may well see some tweaks around the edges. Ben was pretty clear in his interview with Matt Sheahan on the great Planet Sail that the Protocol was a key piece of the puzzle now and that mid-November can’t come soon enough. It sets the direction for AC37 and we’ll see just how up for a scrap Team New Zealand and Ineos Britannia are after we digest the details. The devil will be right there in the detail and will define the next year or so of the Cup itself. Not expecting fireworks but this is the America’s Cup.
Lots going on. I’m getting excited for the Cadiz round of SailGP this weekend but whisper it quietly, I’m even more enthused at watching both Pete Burling and Blair Tuke’s Instagram accounts with the two spending time on the beach in Tarifa perfecting their wing foiling.
Personally I feel rather insta-denied not seeing the duo race each other…based on technique, I have Blair by a nose on the final reach into the line but Pete’s coming fast and those foil gybes are getting better and better (he nailed one yesterday on camera)…surely SailGP should get all the skippers and crews together for a Wing Foiling grand prix in the evening.
If so, my money’s on ‘Dame-to-be’ Hannah Mills to smash the boys at their own game.
Just a thought.