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The young sailors aiming to bring the 36th America’s Cup home

PUBLISHED: 10:42 01 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:48 01 August 2018

INEOS Rebels UK team line up (Photo by Harry KH)

INEOS Rebels UK team line up (Photo by Harry KH)

Harry KH/ Land Rover BAR

Sir Ben Ainslie’s sights are set on bringing home the 36th America’s Cup in 2021 and hoping to join the battle are the sailors currently in his youth squad. Viv Micklefield catches-up with some of the young guns already taking the world by storm

Last summer was a momentous one for British sailing when a team based in Hampshire brought home the America’s Cup. True, this wasn’t the hard-fought senior competition which saw Ben Ainslie’s attempt to end 165 years of hurt scuppered in the play-off final by the eventual Cup winners Emirates New Zealand. Instead, the celebrations flowed in the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup where some of the country’s finest young sailors, who were also up against tough Kiwi opposition, sprinted to top spot on the world stage.

This was a fantastic feat… and fully deserved. Nurturing home grown talent, aged between 19 and 24 years of age to achieve the highest level of performance, is key to a programme that has been running at INEOS TEAM UK’s Portsmouth HQ since 2016. Designed to accelerate not only their prowess on the water but also their technical and industry know-how, the high-octane world of America’s Cup racing, sailing’s equivalent to Formula 1, awaits for those who can prove they’ve got what it takes.

“It’s something I’m personally really passionate about and am proud to watch the sailors develop,” says Jono Macbeth, the senior sailing team manager and three-times America’s Cup winner. “Alongside their sailing development, through work experiences and internships within the senior team, the sailors can widen their skill set and become more rounded individuals. The INEOS Rebels programme offers the opportunity to experience wider areas of the senior team from finance, to design and rigging.”

He continues: “The reality is, it’s competitive and challenging breaking into the professional sailing world; we can’t leave it to luck for the future generation, which is why it’s so important to offer support and opportunities at this level.”

“There’s nothing like it,” says Will Alloway, current skipper of the Rebels’ entry in this year’s Extreme Sailing Series, where they are competing against six other national teams in the GC32 catamaran class. “We’re travelling the world and we get to sail incredible boats that reach up to 38 knots.” For the 22-year-old from Warsash, who’s been campaigning for a place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and is now in his third season with the youth squad, it’s been life-changing.

“The first year you’re learning the ropes, in the second year you progress into the race team and the third year you hope to be considered to make the step into the senior team.

“The facilities here are world class, we have an amazing shore team, and there’s the America’s Cup preparations going on in the workshop. Last time it was amazing to see how the race boat got put together. This year, I’ve been working with the rigging department so, hopefully, when I make the step up into the America’s Cup I’ll have another skill that I can bring.

“Being one of the more experienced guys in the team has allowed me to explore different sides of extreme sailing,” he reflects.

As Jono explains, for such a demanding sport, the recruitment process is demanding too. It involves applicants being invited to spend a day in Portsmouth where they’re put through an intense fitness test, and also attend workshops meeting members of the senior team. Added to which are sailing trials.

And for those fortunate enough to be selected, they will continually be put through their paces.

“You have to really embed yourself in a team or environment and take every opportunity you can, showing dedication and willingness to learn is the only way to grow and gain more experience,” says Jono.

Oli Greber, Adam Kay, Mark Spearman, and Matt Brushwood are crewing with Will Alloway this year. Whilst locations for this year’s Extreme Sailing Series include the warm waters of Oman and Mexico; racing at a professional level on the world class circuit requires constant hard graft.

“Growing-up I was into dinghy sailing and smaller boats. Being involved with the Rebels has really opened my eyes to the professional side of racing, sailing bigger more technical boats and travelling to events across the globe,” observes bow man Oli, 22, who’s juggled completing a degree in sport and exercise science at Portsmouth University, with being part of the squad.

“The boats are hugely physically demanding so it’s important that we spend the hours in the gym to prepare ourselves. It’s often two-hour sessions, six days a week with weights a big part but cardio and endurance fitness is important too.”

Will adds: “We were out training in the Solent before the Extreme Sailing Series started, when the Beast from the East came through. We had minus 10 wind chill one day. It wasn’t pleasant.”

Yet whether training or competing, having America’s Cup and senior sailor Leigh McMillan on-board this year as both the youth team’s helmsman and mentor, is already raising performance targets even higher.

A masterstroke which for Ben Ainslie, INEOS TEAM UK team principal and skipper, is crucial.

“It’s really important for us to support and invest in the next generation of British sailors and create a clear pathway into the America’s Cup.

“It’s a really unique programme; the young sailors receive support from senior mentors as well as the opportunity to develop their skills both on and off the water. To sail with Leigh during the Extreme Sailing Series this year is hugely valuable for our current squad and it really shows what the programme is all about, the senior team coming together with the junior to help them progress and fast track their learning and future careers.”

The team principal’s support for the programme doesn’t end there. According to Oli, it was “a fantastic experience” when Ben, and fellow Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott, joined them for events in San Diego and Mexico last year.

“Their ability to make tactical decisions and the way they conduct themselves professionally is something that we all aspire to. You want to strive to be the best and to learn from your mistakes – those were some of the lessons which they taught us.

“Ben’s my hero,” says Oli. “Just look at the longevity of his Olympic sailing career and how he’s managed to win so many medals, one after the other.”

Already, sailors in the youth squad have themselves become role models. Among the British team for the 2017 Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, 23-year-old Annabel Vose who grew up in Southampton, was the only female crew member to compete in the event. And Jono Macbeth points to Neil Hunter who at 22, last year became a shining example of what’s possible.

“During the 35th America’s Cup, Neil was promoted from the junior to senior team and was the only sailor to compete in both the youth and senior America’s Cup. He went on to win the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup and was also the youngest sailor to race on-board during the main event. Both are a huge achievement and Neil’s story is inspirational for other young sailors.”

What is INEOS TEAM UK?

INEOS TEAM UK was formed in 2018 to bring the America’s Cup home to Britain and is led and backed by INEOS Founder and Chairman, Jim Ratcliffe. The 36th Cup takes place in Auckland in 2021. Each competing team races under a challenging Yacht Club and INEOS TEAM UK will race for Royal Yacht Squadron Racing. Founded in 1815, the Royal Yacht Squadron based in Cowes is regarded as one of the most prestigious yacht clubs in the world.

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