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Ainslie and Scott double act envied by America's Cup rivals

Sportsbeat
·4-min read
Ben Ainslie (right) and Giles Scott are the tactical brains on the water for Britain's America's Cup challenge
Ben Ainslie (right) and Giles Scott are the tactical brains on the water for Britain's America's Cup challenge

By James Toney

It's premature to call them Britain's best sailing double act since Nelson and Hardy but for all the technical talk at the America's Cup, the alchemy for high seas success could be much more personal.

Sir Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott have five Olympic golds between them and their increasingly symbiotic relationship has helped turn around the fortunes of the British challenge for sport's oldest international trophy.

Ainslie's Team Ineos UK are unbeaten in the first stage of the three-boat Challenger regatta, which will decide who faces defending champions Team New Zealand in the 36th America's Cup match in March.

They need just one win in two races against Italy's Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli this weekend to progress directly to the Prada Cup final, a best-of-13 series to decide who becomes the official challenger, something no British boat has achieved since 1964.

Big-money appliance of science is often the secret of America's Cup success, with F1 giants Mercedes GP adding their high-tech know-how to Ainslie's £110m campaign.

But while other boats are looking at the dramatic improvements of the British team with envy, wondering how a boat that looked sluggish has suddenly become so speedy, it's the partnership between skipper and tactician that has proved the crucial 'money can't buy' addition.

Unlike their rivals, Britain have got a specialist tactician in their 11-strong crew, with Scott's sole focus making the big calls on the water, rather than the energy-sapping task of getting these flying machines into the air.

"Getting Giles head out of the boat so he can focus on tactics has proved really valuable," said Ainslie. "It means our grinders are effectively one man down but they are doing a great job to power up the boat.

"We make all the tactical decisions, we raced against each other a lot back in the day and sail together a lot now. We've get on well off the water and we've got a very similar philosophy towards racing, so it's a good partnership.

"We've still got a long way to go. As has been documented we've had a lot of issues with the boat, our race preparation was really poor for this series.

"Giles and I had to sit down and go through it all and we're going through this together, trying to work it out. He is winging it in many ways and doing a fantastic job."

Scott and Ainslie are both cagey on looking too far ahead, which is hardly surprising. American Magic was considered the favourite for this challenger series but is currently sat battered and bruised in a boat shed after last weekend's spectacular capsize.

They have confidence they will be ready to race in the repechage semi-finals but Ainslie is desperate to watch that encounter for the shore.

Winning just one race this weekend will give him a three-week window to make further improvement to 'Britannia' without the worry of racing in a high-pressure series in which the losing team goes home.

"There's a lot on the line to get a direct route to the finals because that will buy you a lot of time in terms of making further upgrades to the boat," he added.

"Time in this game is everything and a win would be significant in the overall outcome of this Cup because it would give us flexibility.

"While you'd have a good spell without intense racing, you've got trade that off against the development gains that you think you might make.

"We've been on a massive rate of improvement in the last three or four weeks and I think there is quite a lot more we can do to make this boat faster."