LONDON (Reuters) – Gazing out over Auckland’s historic harbour from the hotel where he is in quarantine, Ben Ainslie felt waves of envy and excitement watching the New Zealand and U.S. crews practising.
Ainslie is nearing the end of two weeks in a room overlooking the waters where he is confident that INEOS Team UK can win the America’s Cup in March, despite the many disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been frustrating to watch those two sailing around but also quite exciting,” Ainslie told Reuters from his room, where he is preparing for the launch of his new foiling AC75 monohull.
“I’ve been cycling away for a couple of hours a day and also doing some Pilates … there have been some pluses to it,” Ainslie said of the isolation New Zealand’s rules have required he and all the other team members complete.
Cancellations of pre-match regattas due to COVID-19 means that the closest INEOS Team UK has come to squaring up against defenders Emirates Team New Zealand and fellow challengers American Magic and Luna Rossa so far has been on a simulator.
“We’ll be out on the water in a couple of weeks’ time,” Ainslie said, adding that the team was “pretty much” on target, overcoming problems with getting components during lockdowns to develop its second race boat, which it will use for the Cup.
The first opportunity the teams get to see how their second generation AC75s compare will be a mid-December regatta ahead of January’s Prada Cup, which decides who gets to challenge New Zealand for the oldest international sporting trophy.
“We’ve really had a hard look at our design philosophy … and made some pretty major changes. From what I have seen so far of the American and Italian boats, we have been more aggressive in the changes we have made,” Ainslie said.
However, the 43-year-old was guarded about details of the new hull design, its deck layout, the sail set-up or even its name in a competition where design usually dictates who wins.
“Needless to say it is very different from boat one,” said Ainslie, who expects the revolutionary AC75s, which “fly” above the water on hydrofoils, to hit 55 knots (102 kilometres/hour).
“They are big, powerful, very fast machines … you are so focused on keeping the boat on its rails and not wiping out, that you don’t really have time to worry about it.”
(Editing by Christian Radnedge)