Despite the ‘best efforts’ of the sailing industry, there are very few sailors that are recognisable by the general population.
It varies by country – in France, there are sporting heroes, forged through competition in the Vendee Globe – In Australia, there is Jessicia Watson, who is not so much a sporting hero as an adventurer. In the UK, most people asked to name a sailor would still probably say Ellen McArthur despite the success of Team GBR in successive Olympic Games and achievements of Dee Caffari, Ian Williams, Paul Campbell James or the record breaking ICAP Leopard.
With a bit of prompting, sporting fans, not just sailing fans, recognise triple Olympic gold and silver medallist, Ben Ainslie – a relatively reluctant, media star, but undeniably a great sailor.
Ainslie is one sailor who can actually bring fans to an event. Last month, officials in Plymouth admitted that if Ben was helming an AC45 in Plymouth, the crowds were likely to be bigger for the UK round of the America’s Cup World Series.
Now the fastest growing sailing brand on Facebook – Oman Sail – has announced that Ben Ainslie will skipper their Extreme 40, Oman Air. Ainslie will join the team in Trapani and compete in three rounds of the Extreme Sailing Series.
Ainslie, who is Britain’s most successful Olympic sailor ever, will replace Frenchman Sidney Gavignet, following the announcement in August that he would be leaving the Extreme 40, to head-up Oman Sail’s new Multi One Design 70 campaign.
“After such an intense period of sailing the Finn, it’s going to be great to get out there and do some different sailing. I had always planned to take a break from the Finn after the Olympic Test Event, it’s a great opportunity for me and the switch to a different class will be a real positive. In the past I have found that it is good to step away, learn new skills, sail with new people and ultimately come back refreshed.”
“There is definitely a bit of pressure stepping on the boat at this stage in the Series, and I think it is going to be a lot about me not letting the guys down as they have been doing a great job so far this year. We have just a couple of days training in Trapani before our first event together, so it is going to be tough going in cold, but hopefully I can pick it up quickly and we can get some good results.”
Ainslie joins Nasser Al Mashari, Oman Air’s Omani bowman, who has come through the Oman Sail training programme and this year has made his debut as a full time crew member, while Kinley Fowler (AUS), an experienced match racer and part of the crew that has just won the St Moritz Round of the World Match Racing Tour, will continue to call the team’s tactics, with David Carr (GBR), who sailed with Ainslie as part of Team Origin, Britain’s America’s Cup team as Oman Air’s Trimmer.
Nasser Al Mashari is looking forward to sailing with Ainslie.
“I am very excited about the new team, I met Ben recently and I am so thrilled to be sailing with him. He is known around the world as an incredibly talented sailor. We will work hard during our training days in Trapani to find the right team dynamic and get used to sailing together, and Inshallah, we will have some good results on the water.”