Olympic golden boy Sir Ben Ainslie lines up £50m America's Cup gamble


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The Independent Online

Competitors for an at least £50m. assault on the America’s Cup may not even make it to the final shoot-out under the new rules issued months after they were expected for the next event in 2017. Nor do they know where the racing will be staged, but they do know they have to stump up $2m. in entry fees, to be paid in two instalments this year, and find an additional performance bond of $1m. plus guaranteeing to insure all their team members and be responsible for their safety. This is consequential on the death of British gold medallist Andrew Simpson while training with the Swedish challenger Artemis on San Francisco Bay in May 2013.

Sir Ben Ainslie is due to lift the curtain on his British team in the presence of the Duchess of Cambridge at the Greenwich Maritime Museum next Tuesday (10 June) but he will need to finish in the top four challengers from a world series of regattas next year and in 2016 or he will not make it to the challenger semi-finals at the eventual America’s Cup 35 venue in 2017.

And he will have to win that right in a fleet of 45-foot wing-powered catamarans – which may be modified to skim on foils across the top of the water in 2016 – while at the same time working on a brand new design of 62-foot wing-powered catamarans, 10 feet shorter than the 2013 boats, which will be used in the semi-final knock-out stages and in the best of 13 match against the American defender, Oracle Team USA.

But the new format, negotiated on behalf of all the challengers, whomever they may be, by Iain Murray and Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club, has welcomed the fox into the henhouse. The winner of the 45-footer series picks  up a prize of at least one win towards that best of 13 and that winner could be the defender, Larry Ellison’s San Francisco-based (at least, for the time being) Oracle Team USA. If it is a challenger that then loses in the four-team semi-final then the bonus point is lost.

A new nationality rule merely requires on crew on the 45-footers and two on the 62-footers to be born in or hold a passport of the challenging country. “We will have no trouble meeting that,” said Sir Ben earlier this year.

“If you are going to suggest that Ben wouldn’t make the final four, then I would be more than an arm’s length away,” said a senior member of the American organisers. But, while only five teams look set to go forward at this stage, and the New Zealanders would need to persuade the government to pitch in again and the French are fishing in murky financial waters, the lack of certainty helps no-one except the defender.

Previously any challenger that could make it to start line could bid for the right to be the sole challenger and all could guarantee their backers to right to join in the America’s Cup party at the America’s Cup venue.

Where that will be remains a mystery as the defender group has not been given, nor accepted continuity at the 2013 venue of San Francisco. Various names, including San Diego, Newport Rhode Island, Chicago and Bermuda have popped up.

The defender hopes that all of the competitors will stage one of the build-up regattas in their own country and each of those teams will have to run a Youth America’s Cup team, details of which will be published later this year. The 2015 world series venues will be announced by 1 December.

Said Sir Ben: “Great to see the protocol. Plenty to digest and clearly the focus for the next cup is commercial.”