The overhead motorway signs on the approach to Portsmouth read ‘For America’s Cup take M275’ - if only it was that easy. The second day of the opening event of the 2015 Louis Vuitton AC World Series proved to be far more tricky for everyone as the weather played it’s hand with force.
For the home team to win the first of the AC World Series events for the 35th America’s Cup cycle was a dream result. But Land Rover BAR’s slick crew work and tactical expertise on Saturday saw Ainslie’s team deliver the result that they and their supporters wanted with a first and second gained the hard way, (from behind), in the first two races. Ainslie frequently achieves his best results when he’s under pressure and there was plenty of that this weekend in Portsmouth.
For starters there was the pressure of expectation. His four Gold medals go a long way to setting those expectations from the off. But since announcing his campaign to bring the America’s Cup home the star studded cast of backers and supporters, along with Royal support, has made no secret of the team’s desire and focus along with a belief that it can and will be done come 2017. Nothing like setting a few goals, but then as team principal Sir Keith Mills keeps saying, there is no point in going into this campaign with anything other than a clear focus on winning.
So, for the many thousands that turned up on Saturday, delivering a result in home waters was expected, particularly if they were to buy into the idea that the world’s oldest trophy in international sport could indeed return to its birth place.
But Sunday was a very different affair.
The forecast for the second day’s racing, which would be for double points, had not looked good for some time with winds well in excess of the 25knot upper limit on their way.
By Saturday evening it became clear that the forecast was soon to become a reality forcing the organisers to consider bringing the racing schedule forward. For a national championships this is simply a matter of posting an amendment to the sailing instructions on the notice board. But for an event that is linked in with live television at home and abroad, to say nothing of the 60,000 potential spectators that were expected to arrive, along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who would be watching the racing and handing out the prizes, shifting the time of the racing was not easy. But shift it they did in an attempt to get at least one of the two races in before Armageddon struck.
As we in the radio commentary RIB joined the armada of mark boats and race officials to head out to the race course and through the entrance to Portsmouth’s harbour it was clear that conditions were already pretty punchy.
While there was only 19-20knots it was blowing from the south east, straight into the teeth of an ebb tide that kicked up a very unpleasant sea state in the entrance. How the AC45Fs with rigs you can’t reef would get out, let alone back in when the breeze had built, was beyond me.
Once out, the breeze simply built as the rain turned horizontal and after waiting for a while to see whether there was any chance of it dropping, regatta director Iain Murray abandoned all racing for the day.
Sadly it was the only sensible decision and there were none in the teams that saw any other option.
“As a competitor I love the breezy conditions, but I 100% agree with race committee’s decision,” said Glenn Ashby, Emirates Team New Zealand’s wing trimmer. “The safety concerns were definitely there, we have a 25 knot wind limit for a reason, and fully respect that, and I think all the other competitors do too, we don’t want to get anyone hurt.”
The result left Ainslie in the lead overall, which in turn meant another appointment with the Duke and Duchess to collect some more silverware.
To end such a big event that has required so much effort, investment and belief in this way was a cruel blow to all of those concerned. But the opening ACWS regatta has set the bar high and hopefully laid the foundations for similar support in a year’s time when the event returns to Portsmouth.
But Ainslie remained upbeat.
“We’re absolutely delighted to win the first America’s Cup World Series here in Portsmouth, it’s a great start for us on our America’s Cup journey,” he said. “It’s incredible for us, to win here on our home patch, in front of our home crowd, it’s a massive statement for the future.
“In my sailing career, I’ve never seen anything like yesterday. The amount of people that came out on the water, on the shore line, supporting the event and supporting us as a home team, we were all of us as a team completely blown away by.”
Interestingly, others were also quick to sing the praises of the event, not least Ainslie’s former team mate.
“I think this just shows how great it is to have a British team back in the America’s Cup competition,” said Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill. “There was some serious interest here – you look at the estimated spectator numbers on and off the water, it was as if the actual America’s Cup was being raced in terms of crowd size, it was really comparable. It’s just so cool to see a competitive team come from here and I know from past experiences that the Brits get behind their home sporting teams. These guys will be tough.”
Two days before Spithill had joked about how he and the other teams were out to spoil Ainslie’s dream. On this occasion he hadn’t, but no one would doubt that he is capable of it.
Artemis skipper Nathan Outteridge described the local support in another way.
“This was probably the biggest spectator fleet we’ve had for any of the AC World Series events. Normally it’s quite difficult to see the boundaries to the course, here it was easy with a wall of boats that surrounded the entire course.”
His team had had a poor day on Saturday, made worse by a crew error in the second race when they dumped the wrong line at the leeward mark and dropped their unfurled code zero into the water.
“We thought it was the runner and it turned out to be the halyard,” he explained. “But that what’s happens when you’re put under pressure in these high intense races.”
Pressure affects different people in different ways, but with the next ACWS event in Gothenburg, Outteridge’s Swedish flagged team will be hoping to emulate Ainslie’s result in front of their home crowd.
1st Land Rover BAR 19
2nd Emirates Team New Zealand 18
3rd Oracle Team USA 16
4th Groupama Team France 13
5th SoftBank Team Japan 13
6th Artemis Racing 11
Louis Vuitton ACWS Gothenburg – August 27-30
Louis Vuitton ACWS Bermuda – October 16-18