Ainslie busting a gut in America’s Cup quest

Fri Nov 18, 2016 2:15am EST
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(This version of November 17 story has been refiled to add dropped word)

By Alexander Smith

PORTSMOUTH, England (Reuters) - Numbingly-cold salt water showers Ben Ainslie and his crew as they enter "flight" mode in a practice sail before defending their America's Cup World Series lead in Japan this weekend.

Their catamaran's rigging and hulls groan and creak with the strain of the vast wing sail, which is about as big as a 737 aircraft's, as their coach puts the crew of five through a "gut buster", a series of short maneuvers requiring frequent adjustments, total concentration and intense exertion.

Shouting over the screeching wind as the "cat" lifts on to its hydrofoils, the sailors rehearse their moves, one moment bounding across the trampoline that joins the hulls, the next perilously suspended over the edge with only the red of their helmets visible.

"Its an amazing sensation when you lift up out of the water...It is akin to flying an aeroplane. It takes a lot of focus and concentration and then of course when you are in a racing environment you've got to try to deal with beating the opposition at the same time," Ainslie said when back ashore.

Named "Rita", as all the four-times Olympic gold medallist's boats have been, Ainslie's state-of-the-art craft is one of four foiling prototypes he and his 130-member Land Rover BAR team have developed in a more than 80 million-pound ($99.5 million) quest to win the "Auld Mug" back for Britain.

If Ainslie's team do complete the World Series on top after Fukuoka, they will take two bonus points and a potential psychological advantage into the America's Cup qualifiers in Bermuda next year.

Then they hope to beat teams from New Zealand, France, Sweden and Japan for the right to battle it out head-to-head with holders Oracle USA.   Continued...

British sailor Ben Ainslie's Land Rover BAR crew practices in the waters off Portsmouth, Britain,  November 10, 2016, ahead of the final America's Cup World Series event in Fukuoka, Japan. REUTERS/Alexander Smith