Rule Britannia?
June 26th, 2014
01:25 PM ET

Can a knight and a duchess rule the waves?

The America's Cup has existed since 1851 and not once has Britain won it in the intervening years. But is that about to change?

The British challenger for the event's next running in 2017 is certainly the strongest, the one that has all the right ingredients for success.

For one it has royal approval from Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. She's probably the most famous person on the planet right now, certainly the most photographed, and to have her present for the official Cup challenge launch of Ben Ainslie Racing was an unbelievable coup.

But her role doesn't stop there. She's a keen sailor herself and, rather than just being a face of the team, she wants to have a hands-on role as well.

Kate Middleton adds glamor to British bid

Then there's the financial aspect. OK, the team has only raised 40% of the capital required but, unlike 2013 winners Team Oracle, which has effectively relied solely on America's third richest man in Larry Ellison [whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $52.3 billion], this has the backing of the six of Britain's richest men.

But arguably the new team's biggest strength is the Ben Ainslie factor. The David Beckham of sailing, people back him because of his proven track record. The knight of the realm racked up four Olympic gold medals during a glittering career.

I've known Ben for a long time. It was probably 20 years ago that I first met him and I remember a very shy, quiet kid.

But, even back then, he had this unwavering confidence that has never been knocked out of him.

Whatever the predicament, you do believe that with him anything can happen. Take those Olympic triumphs, particularly the last one when he came back from the brink to top the podium at London 2012.

It was the same in the America's Cup. He would never say so, but I know that a lot of people hold him responsible for Oracle's gargantuan comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand.

Oracle Team USA's America's Cup miracle

He is an amazing sailor. He works harder than anyone else, he focuses harder than anyone else and in Olympic sailing that's very clear to see. It's harder to measure in the America's Cup.

It is because of him that rich men are digging into their pockets to back him in this bid.

He's not a natural salesman by any stretch of the imagination but he finds himself as the CEO of a vast £100 million ($170 million) operation of which £60m still needs to be raised. He's in charge of a lot of money and a lot of people.

It's a big step up. Were he to pull it off and win the America's Cup, it would top anything else he has achieved in the past.

The question is can he do it? The British challenge is by far the strongest.

Luna Rossa looks strong backed by Patrizio Bertelli, aka Mr Prada, but other challengers are struggling.

France can't seem to raise the funds while reality has struck for New Zealand in the wake of their defeat last year.

Despite that loss, they came back to a hero's welcome but the post-mortem has given way to a more realistic approach.

Interim payments have come from the government to maintain key personnel but there is an election coming up next year and I'd be surprised if the money still flows during austere times.

The America's Cup has habitually been a rich man's folly. Take the case of Ellison, with vast sums of money to single-handedly throw at Oracle's defence. The British approach is different.

Ellison, though, holds all the cards. He has set – as has always been the right of the defending champions – the protocol for 2017 but it suggests that, from an Ainslie perspective, this is winnable.

Ainslie is no fool. He knows how hard it is to beat Ellison but he will have been plotting this even before the last America's Cup. He will have known the design team he wanted, they will be in place and beginning their work in earnest.

There's been talk of Adrian Newey, the design guru behind Red Bull's previous Formula One dominance, being involved. I suspect he will become embroiled in all of this at some stage.

Ainslie's ambition: Sailing hero takes on America's Cup

Ben is a massive petrolhead and the pair know each other pretty well. There are a lot of similarities – particularly in terms of aerodynamics – between sailing and F1. Both are at the very cutting edge and Newey's track record is superb.

The technology of the America's Cup captured people's imaginations last time around. I'm still at a loss to fully explain how these huge boats fly over the water – it almost defies belief and it highlights the massive leap technology has taken from previous years.

Last year brought an end to the constant bickering over the future format between Ellison and Ernesto Bertarelli, owners of the previous America's Cup holders Team Alinghi, which I think caused a lot of people to get bored and switch off from the event.

But interest is greater than ever before. It caught the eye of the public in a way that no one really thought was possible. It had a Hollywood storyline where the Americans came back from the brink to win it at the last.

Were Ainslie and Britain to win it, it would be akin to Goliath toppling David. The process of them achieving that lofty goal has begun.

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Filed under:  Sailing
soundoff (One Response)
  1. ella

    Waves are Beatuful
    And waves will try to be sweet and kind...
    Because of Kates Beauty And Bens Charm;)
    But Shirley You are Just Fantastic,,,and only You could ask that question....
    You are specialllllll
    Love Sailing news,,,, because of You...

    June 29, 2014 at 8:42 am | Reply

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