Why the announcement of the 1851 Trust was more than just another America’s Cup press conference

From 107m up you get a great perspective on Britain’s current America’s Cup campaign. Rising high above the country’s famous naval city, Portsmouth’s distinctive Spinnaker Tower was the venue for Ben Ainslie Racing’s (BAR) latest announcement, but it also provided a superb view of the current state of the team’s new base at Camber Quay.

Set to the east side of the harbour entrance in the historic part of the city you are left in no doubt as to the scale of this project. This is no slab sided industrial unit with a flashy team sign hung above a pair of painted sliding doors, this will be a building and a programme designed to last well beyond the next Cup. A building and a site created with two objectives in mind, to be the base for the next British America’s Cup team, while creating an interactive visitor centre for the public.

The area, just opposite the Portsmouth to IOW ferry terminal, has been flattened and the early steels that will form one end of the building are starting to take shape. At present they are just up to the first floor of what will be the equivalent height of a six storey building. When you then start to imagine the rest of the floors spread across the building’s footprint you start to realise just how big the new premises will be and how big an undertaking just the building project is. The new BAR base will be the size of a small shopping centre.

And that’s when it hit me properly. This is unlike any British America’s Cup project that I’ve witnessed before. Ben Ainslie Racing’s Cup campaign is already a commitment on a huge scale. A campaign budget of £80 million with nearly £8million coming from the Government, never has a British Cup team drawn such economic support from the country itself.

But even then, to dwell on the financial undertaking of a large construction project in the middle of a busy city is to simply scratch the surface of BAR’s ambitions. The object of the press call was to announce the team’s 1851 Trust which aims to, ‘inspire and engage a new generation through sailing and the marine industry, providing young people with the education, skills and training to become innovators of the future and stewards of the marine environment.’

Lord Grade made the introductory speech and introduced Sir Keith Mills who confirmed that the Duchess of Cambridge had agreed to be the Patron of the Trust. Three huge names in one sentence, all putting their weight behind an America’s Cup campaign. And while the Cup will not be won on the basis of which team has the most impressive line up of dignitaries, there is no question that BAR has already amassed some incredible support with a wealth of talent and track records to match.

A statement from Her Highness read, “I am delighted to be Royal Patron of the 1851 Trust. I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed sailing from a young age and I know it is a great way of providing young people with the opportunity to develop skills and confidence. It is a hugely exciting time for sailing as the British Challenger bids to bring the America’s Cup back to Britain. I am looking forward to being part of this journey and I hope that through the 1851 Trust we can engage and inspire a new generation into sailing along the way,”

Sir Keith Mills is no stranger to wining bids and delivering to a deadline having been deputy chair of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games. He also knows plenty about ensuring that such huge undertakings provide a lasting legacy. Talking to him after the presentation he described the effort that went into the Invictus Games and how an invitation to the Palace turned into a task of organising a huge international sporting event in just seven months. An event that one presumes, with Royal backing, couldn’t be allowed fail. And it didn’t, far from it.

If there’s one thing that Sir Keith is known for it is making the right calls and delivering. And while his previous attempt at the Cup with Team Origin had to be halted, it did so because the Cup world was in a very different state.

While it is true that we still don’t know where and when the 35th America’s Cup will take place, the mood within the Defender and Challenger camps is very different to what we became used to during the five or so years that followed the 32nd Cup in Valencia.

With such big stakes at play, there is always the potential for dispute, dispute that has in the past derailed the event, but this time the mood is different. There will be plenty of robust discussions behind the scenes, but all the teams know that it is in their combined interests to ensure that the 35th America’s Cup happens and lives up to the spectacular event of last year. As one Cup skipper said to me a few weeks ago, ‘Many of us in this cycle were affected by that destructive period. Our careers and campaigns were put on hold, many were let down by the Cup. We know what failure feels like and are determined to make sure it doesn’t happen this time around.’

For his own team, Ainslie sees the next Cup cycle as being more than just about a racing event.

“When you look at the venue we have and our proximity to the open water where we will be both training and hosting a couple of AC45 World Series events in 2015 and 2016, it is an impressive set up for a base,” he said. “But it’s more than that. It’s about providing apprenticeships, getting youngsters through the base and inspiring them through engineering and sailing. This in itself brings the whole project together.”

So how certain was Ainslie that BAR would be able to go the full distance?

“I hope people know me well enough and see the kind of people who are behind our team, to know that none of us are the type to commit to something like this and do it half heartedly,” he said. “We’ll be there.”

With his back to the window, 107m above the Solent, the view behind and below provided the perfect context. With the yellow flashing lights of construction traffic flickering below, BAR is clearly already in full swing. The announcement of the 1851 Trust, drove the point home.

This is a Cup campaign that already has serious momentum with an impressive array of backers that will not let it fail.