Sir Ben Ainslie and Ian Williams unbeaten on first day of World Match Racing Tour
Defending world champion Ian Williams is sharing the limelight this week with fellow Briton and race-track rival Sir Ben Ainslie. It at least leaves the other 18 teams competing in the World Match Racing Tour (WMRT) event to concentrate on the job in hand.
When the office is the harbour in Hamilton and the cafeteria is the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, going to work is proving a pleasant chore for Ainslie. He is using a wild card invitation to boost fund-raising in memory of an old friend. In the four-man crew is Iain Percy, whose Olympic partner Andrew Simpson died in May.
'Bart' as he was always known, was training with the Swedish challenge for the America's Cup on San Francisco Bay when the 72-foot wing-powered catamaran suffered a spectacular crash. One legacy is the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation.
The elegant, 1936-designed boats they are now racing could scarcely be a greater contrast to the flying foilers but both Williams and Ainslie insist there is the same intensity, that the pressures are as great for the four-man crews. On the opening day of racing for the two groups of 10, a blustery wind was finding some equipment weaknesses, but not in the British sailing. Both won their four races.
Williams is seeking a fifth world title on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour. Ainslie, who makes only this single appearance on that tour in 2013, wants to raise the magnificent King Edward VII Gold Cup for a third time.
Williams can just about afford a disappointing result in Bermuda as the 2013 finale is the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia in December, which counts double points. But he would prefer to leave the Atlantic island, on the same line of latitude as Tripoli and Charleston, South Carolina, with his current 17-point lead intact.
“The scoreboard flatters us at the moment,” says Williams, who has also made an appearance, in Cardiff, on the GAC Pindar Extreme 40 and last week was competing in Cascais, Portugal, on an RC44. “Perhaps Ben could help by knocking over one of our main competitors. We have not always had the best of luck here in Bermuda, so maybe it's our turn for the rub of the green.”
A nominee for the world sailor of the year, Williams and his Team GAC Pindar have been sailing well this year but have won only one regatta, in Germany, and failed sometimes to close the deal when ahead.
Of all the six regattas on the world tour Bermuda is the most elegant, though the biggest crowds gather on the rocky cliffs around the natural arena that is Marstrand, in Sweden. The tour was reduced from eight events to six this year as the harsh economic climate took its toll on the host venues, one in Holland, the other, more surprisingly, at St. Moritz in Switzerland.
WMRT chief executive James Pleasance knows he has the backing of foreign exchange trader Alpari up to and including the 2016 tour. This week Alpari has been up to its eyes and ears in the scramble either for opportunities or safety because of the uncertainty caused by the row on Capitol Hill, and chief market analyst James Hughes says China, which could be added to the match race calendar, is a major influence.
Pleasance expects to announce the 2014 programme by January and aims to push the tour back up to eight events but knows that the word of grand prix sailing is also waiting to see the future of the America's Cup and any associated tours, plus any moves made by the Extreme Sailing Series, which is run by Britain's Mark Turner through the Swiss-based Third Pole event organisation company.
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