Great British Sea Power
Sir Ben Ainslie and his all-star Land Rover BAR team are bidding to overcome 166 years of maritime hurt and finally bring the America's Cup home
Meet Rita. At 23.5m tall, 15m long and 2,400kg this girl can fly – almost literally.
She’s the new high-speed catamaran launched last month by British team Land Rover BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing), one of six teams bidding to win the prestigious 35th America’s Cup, presented by Louis Vuitton, on the sparkling blue waters of Bermuda’s Great Sound this summer.
Land Rover BAR is the brainchild of Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor of all time. The four-time gold medal winner already knows what it takes to win competitive sailing’s biggest prize.
Four years ago he masterminded an astonishing comeback for Oracle Team USA and ever since he has devoted all his energy to build a British team capable of bringing cup home for the first time since it was conceived – and lost – in 1851.
“If I didn’t think it was possible, trust me, I would not be doing it,” said the 40-year-old, at Land Rover BAR’s Bermuda Headquarters where the team have relocated from Portsmouth for the competition.
“We’ve had great success in sailing over the past 10-20 years but in British sport, the America’s Cup is one thing we’ve never won, certainly in our maritime history. It’s a bit of a sore point for British sailors.”
Bermuda makes for an appropriate setting. The sub-tropical North Atlantic island, cut almost 600 miles adrift from the trappings of mainland north America, has a rich sailing history ingrained in the way of life, ever since a crew of shipwreck survivors founded the island over four centuries ago.
Getting out on the water is a fundamental part of Bermudian life, from experiencing the reefs and shipwrecks of the ocean to exploring the bays, harbours and blue-water grottos by kayak, jetski and a wide range of other water sports. But it’s sailing that Bermuda is most famous for and each year the island hosts a variety of regattas including the glamorous Newport Bermuda Race – also known as “the thrash to the Onion Patch” and the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race in modern sailing. Yet, this summer, all eyes – and conversations – in Bermuda are on the America’s Cup.
As the most prestigious sailing regatta in the world, it seems fitting that Bermuda would welcome a whole host of new luxury experiences for visitors to enjoy during the competition (which takes place between May 26th and June 27th) including a spectator race village in Royal Naval Dockyard with big screens and entertainment, on-the-water race viewing and a new luxury hotel – The Loren – has just opened its doors.
In the lead up to the event, visitors will be able to witness the six America’s cup teams training and foiling catamarans on the Great Sound – the world-famous natural amphitheatre where the actual racing will take place.
And for the locals, the race has bought in a welcome wave of friendly and supportive visitors. Of the Bermudians, Ainslie insists that it’s thanks to their support that they’ve received such a wide and friendly welcome on the island. “They’ve really embraced the America’s Cup. It’s a big deal for the island and for us it’s important to leave a legacy and make a difference, not just race and disappear – hopefully with the America’s Cup.”
“We’ve been here for three months and the local people have been incredible,” said Ainslie, as the team also unveiled an “Exploration Zone” at their Bermuda HQ for local school kids to understand more about the ocean, sustainability and how the boats are designed and sailed
For Land Rover BAR to achieve their long-overdue mission, the technical and tactical precision within the boat, on the boat and behind the scenes will need to be flawless – comparable with that of a Formula One outfit.
Therefore it’s of no surprise Martin Whitmarsh, the former team principal of F1 McLaren, is pulling the strings as CEO.
“I’m not a sailor but I have the experience of being in a team looking for all these marginal gains,” said Whitmarsh. “In F1, generally the quickest car wins. In America’s Cup, generally the quickest boat wins.”
And to become the fastest in sailing, you need to eliminate as much drag as possible.
For that reason, calling these flying machines “boats” doesn’t really do them justice, as Gentleman’s Journal quickly grasped when treated to a high-speed demonstration by Swedish rivals Artemis Racing.
These state-of-the-art catamarans – the next generation since the type first witnessed at the 2013 competition – use a solid aeroplane wing-like sail and innovative fin-like hydrofoils to achieve speeds almost three times faster than the wind.
All the energy on the boat is generated by four crew members furiously “grinding” an arm-powered mechanism to charge the boat’s hydraulic systems.
As the contraption gathers momentum, deployable hydrofoils seemingly lift the entire boat clear of the water – like a plane rising off the runway – drastically reducing drag so it can glide through the air at speeds reaching a breathtaking 60 miles per hour.
The British boat, officially known as the Land Rover BAR R1 and christened with a bottle of English sparkling wine Nyetimber by Ainslie’s wife and former Sky Sports presenter Lady Georgie Ainslie, is the culmination of 35,000 hours of painstaking design effort.
Dressed all in gunmetal black and grey – save for the green and white Land Rover logo –Rita cuts a brooding figure against the backdrop of an ominous cloudy sky. The reason for her muted tones? To win – at all costs.
Paint would have added extra kilograms they can’t afford to carry, a member of the design team reveals, which could make all the difference when hunting down that elusive “Auld Mug” trophy this summer.
With that attention to detail, the ruthless Ainslie at the helm and mastermind Whitmarsh squeezing every marginal gain possible out of the team, Rita and Britain will have every chance of finally claiming the oldest trophy in international sport.
“If there was ever a time to do it, this is it,” said Ainslie. “We’ve had success in the World Series [which Britain finished top of to take a two-point head-start into the America’s Cup Challenger Series when it kicks off on May 26].
“That was a major plus in showing that as a new team we can go out and perform at the top level. But ultimately our goal is to bring the cup home. We won’t stop until we get the job done.”
Challenging the British team will be the current champions, Oracle Team USA, Swedish Artemis Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand, Groupama Team France and SoftBank Team Japan. The final two boats after qualifiers and playoffs will race in the America’s Cup Match on June 27th 2017.
Visit GoToBermuda for more information.
First published in Gentleman's Journal in print and online in April 2017.