Flying on Foils


The America’s Cup may be the world’s oldest international sporting trophy, predating the modern Olympic Games, the FA Cup and golf’s Ryder Cup, but the 36th edition in March 2021 will be remarkably different from its predecessors for a bounty of reasons.

The unexpected arrival of Covid-19 has led to far-reaching ramifications felt around the world. For the America’s Cup INEOS TEAM UK it meant navigating tiresome lockdown restrictions at a critical point in their training schedule, and in September the need to observe a 14-day quarantine period upon entry into New Zealand. For Team Principal and Skipper Sir Ben Ainslie, the most decorated Olympic sailor in history, it was but another test of endurance that they took in their stride. 

“Going through something challenging like lockdown together ultimately makes you a stronger team, so in some ways it has been a positive,” he says. “It was frustrating being able to see the competition get out on the water on Auckland Harbour whilst we were still in quarantine. So, I took my frustrations out on the turbo trainer we had set up in the hotel room, and you can clock up a fair few miles on that thing!”

It’s taken 90,000 design hours and 46,000 construction hours to build Britannia – INEOS’s AC75 22.8m foiling monohull – based on design parameters set by Team Emirates New Zealand, the defenders of the America’s Cup. Led by new Head of Design, Nick Holroyd (the man who first came up with the idea for foils as part of Team Emirates New Zealand’s 2013 San Francisco campaign) INEOS had a few different design concepts on the table for the eventual raceboat. They swerved the safe option and went with their “most extreme design”. It’s a decision that Sir Ben feels good about, but the demands from racing a seven-tonne monohull that lifts up on foils and flies at speeds of up to 50 knots are plentiful.

“It’s one thing sailing these boats by yourselves in a wide-open space, but quite another when on a tight racecourse with other teams,” says Sir Ben. “That’s going to be one hell of a challenge getting around the course first, fast and safely.”

Even without the advent of Covid the weight of expectation is heavy. British hopes are pinned on Britannia bringing the ‘Auld Mug’ home to the UK for the first time. Sir Ben believes they have the right team to pull it off this year, but does that make it harder to stay focused?

“We treat pressure as a privilege,” states the five-time Olympian, adding, “if you want to compete at the highest level you need to be up for the fight.”

“We treat pressure as a privilege. If you want to compete at the highest level you need to be up for the fight.”
Sir Ben Ainslie

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America’s Cup INEOS TEAM UK Principal and Skipper, Sir Ben Ainslie
All images: Team INEOS UK Lloyd Images

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