Double Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie chats to Sue Pelling about his presence at Skandia Cowes Week and the success of last week's Swedish Match Tour event

Double Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie hot-footed it straight from last week’s Swedish Match Tour in Portugal to race at Skandia Cowes Week. Ainslie, who’s now concentrating on his position as skipper of Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup Challenge was on top form today as we spoke to him about his presence at Skandia Cowes Week and the success of last week’s Swedish Match tour against top match racer Peter Holmberg where he finished second.

Here helming the John Merricks Trust Farr 45 with a group of young keelboat sailors selected through the Volvo RYA Keelboat Programme, Ainslie was quick to point out that although he’s never actually sailed with them as a team before his young crew are sailing the boat exceptionally well. The only day he’s not racing with them this week is Thursday when he hops aboard the Open 60 Hugo Boss with Alex Thomson to race the special Open 60 round the island race. “This, I’m really looking forward to”, said Ainslie, “because I’ve never sailed an Open 60 before. As long as the winds hold out this week it should be fairly exciting.”

But what is it that draws Ainslie to Skandia Cowes Week when in theory he should be out training in his Finn in preparation for next week’s Finn Europeans? “Yes, I have to agree it is not actually the best build up for a dinghy championship but I’ll be alright. I didn’t want to miss Skandia Cowes Week. This is a great event, it’s the first event that goes on my sailing calendar every year. I’ve been sailing here since I was 16 years old. There’s so much history and it never ceases to amaze me just how many times the entry record is broken. It’s also a real fun event which is very important.”

For Ainslie attending Skandia Cowes Week is a bit of an antidote to the stress of full on racing at last week’s Swedish Match where he finished runner-up to Alinghi skipper Peter Holmberg. He won the first race of the final but a massive course reading error in another scuppered his chances. Still very much on his mind Ainslie recalls what happened: “We made a huge error – we went to the wrong mark. We were in a great position in the final and lost it. The wind was very shifty, and there were two windward marks, they’d put up a change of course flag but somehow all five of us onboard failed to see it. Don’t know how we all missed it but we did. That was a shame because it sort of knocked us off our stride and Peter [Holmberg] sailed very well and won.”

Overall though Ainslie was delighted with the result because it was the first time he made the top four and was pleased to have had exceptionally good racing with Holmberg. Interestingly except for a bit of match racing with OneWorld Challenge four years ago Ainslie’s fairly new to the match racing circuit as helmsman. Commenting on his match racing form Ainslie said: “It’s been good but seriously frustrating at times. People are quite quick to knock you when you’re not getting the results so it was nice to finally get a decent one to prove that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

As always Ainslie was keen to praise his team, adding: “I’m lucky because I have a top crew who’ve been match racing for many years; that makes a huge difference. The main guy I race with is Ray Davies who’s the tactician and a seriously good sailor. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever sailed with and we get on really well. I was particularly pleased for him that we did so well. I’m sure it’s been a bit frustrating for him at times because he has no control over my cock-ups.”

And the America’s Cup? “It’s going really well and I’m enjoying it. Although it’s been a bit strange this year because we’ve just had one boat going out doing the Acts and we haven’t been training down in Auckland. It’s been good in a way however, because we’ve all gone off and done our own match racing and training. We all start up again in Auckland in November and start working towards the new boat. We plan to be based in Valencia from April next year but we have a lot to do. Pretty much everyone is in Valencia apart from us but we’re not too worried about that because this way we can do our training away from prying eyes.”

And finally Ainslie’s reaction to Great Britain winning the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games: “Absolutely fantastic, it’s going to have a massive effect on British sport in this country. Not sure if I’ll be competing. I’ll be 35 then so in sailing terms it will still be possible to be there but I really don’t know. There are a lot of things I want to do. For example I think it is a real shame there isn’t a British Challenge for the America’s Cup so it would be good to try and sort that out somehow.”