Sir Ben Ainslie isn't taking any time off from his pursuit of sailing's greatest prize.
The British sailing star is back in San Diego for the second time in four months, this time with top crew members to begin a new season of sailing to help stay fresh in the long, somewhat uncertain buildup toward the 2021 America's Cup.
The core of Ainslie's Land Rover BAR team will race with Tony Langley's British sailing team Gladiator on the TP52 circuit this year. The newly formed Land Rover BAR Gladiator will debut in the SCYA Midwinter Regatta out of the San Diego Yacht Club this weekend.
It's not match racing and the sloops don't rise up on hydrofoils like the next generation of America's Cup boats will. With that high-performance monohull still in the conceptual stage, Ainslie, one of the world's most accomplished sailors, simply wants to be back on the water.
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"There's quite a lot missing, but in terms of just getting out there, racing with the guys, building on those relationships on a tough, tight circuit, that's going to be really good for us," Ainslie said Thursday evening after a day of training. "This is obviously not the foiling, not the high performance thing, but it's sort of the pure sort of racing element of it."
Ainslie, the most-decorated Olympic sailor ever with four gold medals and one silver, remains committed to becoming the first to hoist the America's Cup in victory for Britain. He's won it before, but with Oracle Team USA in 2013.
His countrymen have been trying and failing to win back the silver trophy ever since the schooner America won it by beating a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight in 1851.
After helping Oracle Team USA mount its stunning comeback from an 8-1 deficit to beat Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013, Ainslie formed Land Rover BAR. The British squad had a bit of a rough go in the challenger trials in Bermuda in June, losing in the semifinals to Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis went on to win the challenger finals and then stunned defending champion Oracle Team USA in the America's Cup match.
While evaluating what went right and what went wrong in Bermuda, Ainslie hired four-time Cup winner Grant Simmer as CEO and Nick Holroyd as chief designer. Holroyd, formerly of Team New Zealand, is the mastermind who brought foiling to the America's Cup.
"Those are two really big moves for us and big players in the America's Cup game, so I'm very happy with how that's played out," Ainslie said. "We're developing and learning and making some changes with the goal being to be a stronger team this next time around."
The last two America's Cup regattas were contested in foiling catamarans. The 36th America's Cup will be sailed in radical, 75-foot monohulls that will rise up on hydrofoils and speed across the tops of the waves. Team New Zealand released concepts last fall and is due to release the class rule by March 31. They're expected to be expensive and perhaps hard to sail.
"I think the challenge is there with a new class of boat, for all of the teams," Ainslie said. "It's going to be an awesome challenge but we've made some difficult decisions. I think we've got ourselves in a much better place to have a shot at winning this thing."
Ainslie was in San Diego last fall to helm Land Rover BAR Academy's 32-foot catamaran in the Extreme Sailing Series. The academy is an offshoot of Land Rover BAR, designed to give young sailors a path to the America's Cup team.
For the TP52 series, the crew will include Land Rover BAR mainstays Jono Macbeth, David "Freddie" Carr, Andy McLean and Giles Scott, himself an Olympic gold medalist. New to the team is Joey Newton, a two-time America's Cup winner with Oracle Team USA.