INEOS Team UK
With this next America’s Cup challenge from the United Kingdom comes a powerhouse of sailing and technical greatness, with the expectations to make good on a race they lost 132 years ago.
Representing: Royal Yacht Squadron Racing
Principles: Sir James Ratcliff and Ben Ainslie
Base: Portsmouth, UK
Helmsman: Ben Ainslie
Yacht name: Britannia 2
For the Brits, the America’s Cup is one long-running traumatic disaster. The country that launched the oldest trophy in international sport with a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851, has taken part many times but has never managed to win it. And not winning it remains an open scar on the landscape of a nation that has become obsessed with success on the sports field.
Anyone who dares to have a go at bringing Britain’s longest losing streak in sport to an end must be prepared to confront that legacy, to be reminded of it at every turn and ultimately risk perpetuating it and going down as yet another loser in the most prestigious sailing competition of them all.
From a young age, Ben Ainslie—officially “Sir Ben” after being knighted in 2013 —identified two goals he wanted to devote his life to. The first was a gold medal in Olympic sailing, which he achieved four times over; the second was to win the America’s Cup. The weight of history has never seemed to put him off.
INEOS Team UK, representing the Royal Yacht Squadron in the shape of the Nick Holroyd-designed Britannia, is by far the most powerful expression of his ambition and is also Britain’s strongest tilt at the Cup since the Second World War.
It is also the first British tilt at the Cup by a syndicate that has been able to launch back-to-back challenges since Sir Thomas Sopwith’s Endeavour campaigns of 1934 and 1937. For the first time in the modern era this is a British effort that can benefit from experience and continuity accumulated over two cycles of competition.
INEOS Team UK is based in a well-appointed, purpose-built facility in Portsmouth on the shores of the Solent on England’s south coast. It is entirely funded by Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire founder of the Anglo-Swiss chemicals multinational INEOS. And in Ainslie, it is led by a sailor who has a long history of experience in the Cup game, the highlight of which was coming on as tactician to help propel Oracle Team USA to victory over Team New Zealand after going 8-1 down in San Francisco in 2013.
The new team, still working under the ambitious slogan “Bringing the Cup Home” and with the hugely experienced Australian Cup veteran, Grant Simmer, in the CEO role, was born. Many of its key players were retained but lots of new blood was added too, not least Holroyd as chief designer, who arrived following an illustrious career with Team New Zealand and then SoftBank Team Japan.
After abruptly dropping Land Rover and a group of private and other corporate sponsors in favor of Ratcliffe, the runway was cleared for a competitive crack at the AC75.
But then came the first boat and it was a misstep. Ainslie himself had written in that Daily Telegraph piece that in the design effort “you have got to get it right at the start.” But Britannia I, an ugly, slab-sided scow-bow affair with a flat bottom that was later modified to add a skeg, looked like an outlier in comparison to the first efforts of the Americans and the Italians.
Whoever you talk to in the team, you get the same vibe about that boat; it served as a good test bed for control systems but it looked wrong, it was not going to be competitive and it put some pressure on the design team to get it right the second time round. As Freddie Carr, INEOS Team UK’s entertainer-in-chief and one of eight grinders on the crew put it: “It was a great test boat, a fantastic learning boat but I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to race it.” The concept, with as much emphasis on displacement behavior as foiling, seemed to be based on a misunderstanding of how this Cup was going to be fought out.
Why is this important? Well, because the upshot is that the British team has made by far the biggest step of the three challengers from boat one to boat two and inherent in that quantum leap is the danger that the new boat might be too experimental, too much of a lunge forward. Gone is the flat bottom and in its place is a complex shape with a pronounced and angular skeg to endplate the hull to the surface of the water and with a bustle in the aft sections designed to help the boat get up onto its foils at the earliest opportunity. The cognoscenti have dubbed it the most radical of the challenger boats and the team itself accepts that.