September 9, 2014 / 9:29 PM / in 3 years

All hands on deck as Ainslie prepares Cup challenge

America's Cup skipper Ben Ainslie from Ben Ainslie Racing poses with the America's Cup during a news conference introducing the 35th America's Cup, in London September 9, 2014. REUTERS/Daniel Leal-Olivas

LONDON (Reuters) - Ben Ainslie is the most successful Olympic sailor of all time but he said he might not necessarily helm Britain’s America’s Cup challenge in 2017, despite being the team boss.

Ainslie, who won medals at five consecutive Olympics and gold in the last four, is busy with the colossal task of putting together a British boat capable of beating Team Oracle, the American outfit he masterminded to one of the greatest sporting comebacks in San Francisco last year.

The 37-year-old said at least five of his eight-man crew will be British and such is the talent pool in a nation steeped in sailing tradition that he said he might not even be steering the boat when action begins at a venue still to be decided.

“We are a British team,” Ainslie told Reuters at a news conference on Tuesday also featuring Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill and Dean Barker, whose Team New Zealand crew snatched defeat from the jaws of victory a year ago, having led 8-1.

”That’s important to us that we are seen to be so. We are very fortunate that it happens that the key guys we identified were British, both in the design and sailing front.

”We have a mixture of guys, some with experience of previous Cup campaigns and some younger talent coming through, particularly British talent who race in 49ers and classes like that. It’s about putting a group together and working out how the relationships work.

“If we were going racing tomorrow I would be steering the boat, but maybe that’s not the same answer I would give you in a couple of years time.”

WHIRLWIND LIFE

Since entering for the 35th America’s Cup with his Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team, life has been a whirlwind.

“I reckon recreational sailors are seeing more of the water than me this year,” said Ainslie, whose first taste of the America’s Cup was with Team New Zealand in 2007.

“There have been a few moments where I thought, ‘yeah it’s great to get out of the office’. But that was always the plan, to set the team up, get the funding, the designers the sailors.”

Funding what is often called Formula 1 on the waves is a tough proposition for the team principal and his board - a situation he said was more difficult because of delays in naming where the Challenge Match will actually take place in 2017.

San Diego and Bermuda are the two favorites.

There are even ongoing rumors that the 62-foot wing-sailed catamaran yachts could be ditched for smaller ones.

Ainslie clearly finds it frustrating.

“In an ideal world, 12 months down the road it would be nice to have a venue and a date set in stone but for a number of different reasons that hasn’t happened,” he said.

”The great thing is, the teams are coming together to rectify that. Probably more important for the future, so that after this next race we will know what the boat will be, what the venue will be and get a structure in place early on.

“It’s crazy really. We had such a successful race last time, we needed the continuity to keep the momentum going.”

With Australian Spithill saying the next America’s Cup will see the “toughest lineup ever”, Ainslie said it would “massive” for Britain to bring home the Cup to where it all began in 1851.

At his side will be Jonathan ‘Jono’ Macbeth, a three-times America’s Cup winner and who was part of the Oracle crew last year.

BRITISH STRENGTH

Kiwi Macbeth, who holds a British passport, is BAR’s Sailing Team Manager and if it was down to him alone, there would only be one person at the helm in 2017.

“The guy has five Olympics medals so it would have to be someone pretty special to come along and take the helm from him,” Macbeth joked. “I don’t know. Ben and I will discuss it and we will be doing what’s right for the team.”

Macbeth, a grinder on the decks of Oracle, said he had been overwhelmed by interest in BAR.

”Britain is incredibly patriotic about sailing,“ he said. ”My inbox is full constantly of British sailors asking what can I do to get involved.

”This is by far the strongest British team that has ever been presented and we have some amazing sailors coming on board. We have seven sailors at the moment and five are British.

“Come race day it will be a 90-95 percent British team.”

The America’s Cup’s preliminary series, known as the World Series, will take place at various venues in 2015 and 2016 using smaller AC45s.

Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Tom Hayward

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