Sir Ben Ainslie in Palma this week and the T6 out on the water in the Bay of Palma. | H.Carter/INEOS Britannia


Sir Ben Ainslie, who as Team Principal, CEO and Skipper of INEOS Britannia, has been based in Palma since September with the rest of his crew and a 70-strong team preparing for UK’s bid to win the America’s Cup in Barcelona next year, says that INEOS is planning on establishing a permanent base for its sailing project in Mallorca.

Sir Ben is the most successful sailor in Olympic history. He won medals at five consecutive Olympics from 1996 onwards, including gold at four consecutive Games (Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London) held between 2000 and 2012 and is no stranger to Mallorca.

“I have a great affinity for the island. I’ve been competing and training for the Olympics on the island for many years, so on that front Mallorca seemed an obvious choice to establish our America’s Cup training camp. We know the set-up, the facilities in the port are second to none in the world, we’ve got lots of friends and contacts here and it’s a globally respected yachting destination. I think we’ve made the right decision.

“The camp here is going extremely well, we’re obviously going through our test boat for the America’s Cup. This prototype, the T6, is 40 feet. The boat we’ll actually be competing in, the AC75, will be a 75 foot version, but we’ve been getting it out on the water as much as possible, testing various set-ups and reporting all the data back to the designers and technical team at Brackley where they are based with our Mercedes Formula One colleagues F1 Mercedes-AMG F1 Applied Science.

“The main focus has been on the hull and foils of the boat, which are the immediate design decisions that we have to make quite soon for the big boat going into the Cup next year.

“Why Mallorca? The Cup’s obviously in Barcelona, but particularly through these winter months we’ve been here we feel that Mallorca has a better winter climate for sailing in terms of the strong northerly winds, being protected in the bay here, as opposed to Barcelona. Plus we’ve got a strong affinity with the island having been here many winters with the Olympic campaigns and so it felt like a natural fit,” Sir Ben told the Bulletin at the presentation of the INEOS Britannia America’s Cup team at the Real Club Nautico in Palma.

“And the other strong thing we have is with the INEOS Grenadiers cycling team, which has its winter base up in Alcudia. That gave our cyclors crew members great training, so there’s a very strong connection and cooperation there. (Instead of traditional grinders using arm power to hoist and lower the sails, the boats are using leg power.) So there are a number of attractions for us to be on the island together - it was very much a united camp when the cyclists were here, so it’s been going very well and we’ve had some great conditions. Unexpectedly challenging at times, especially of late, but that’s pushed us more and thrown up new hurdles to overcome and situations to navigate. I guess that’s been a bonus because the Cup runs through August to October - there’s a seasonal change there - so we’re trying to design a boat for a wide range of conditions and that is tricky, but we’ve been getting that here. We had easy breeze days up to the strong northerly and bigger waves coming in, so we’re being put through our paces, which is giving us plenty to build on.

“I have to say that the port authority has been fantastic finding us some space down at Porto Pi, so logistically it’s a great spot plus the direct flights back to the UK are a big help. With most of our designers based at Brackley with the Formula One side of operations, we are all on the one site.
“But we’ll be based here until the summer and then we’ll ship across to Barcelona. We hope to get in two warm-up regattas beforehand but they’ve yet to be confirmed.

“That said, we’re feeling strong as a team. It’s been a big change for us moving across to having a much stronger collaboration with Formula One and that has required quite a cultural shift because with F1 we’ve gone from being a relatively small team to being part of a wider team of some 2,000 odd people. That’s been a big structural change with regard to management, designers and so on, but we’re certainly starting to see the big benefits of that now.

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“It has to be said that it’s hard work. We start very early in the gym around 7am and then we get out on the water around 11am; it takes quite a lot of preparation to get the boat ready and in the water.
“And depending on the weather forecast, we’ll get in the water and we sail all day until 5pm. Then we have lots of meetings to understand the performance of the boat on the water, take all the data off the boat for our design team and then we get set to go the next day.

“So the great thing about Mallorca is that the conditions all through the winter pretty much mean you can sail every day and that’s one of main reasons why we wanted to be here.
“The possibility of winning the America’s Cup is always there, that’s why we’re doing it. But it’s tough, very tough.

“Obviously we’re going to be up against the Kiwis who have been the dominant team for the past ten years or so and they’re going to be very strong defenders. So we’re under no illusions that we face a big, big challenge, but we’re up for it, pushing incredibly hard,” Sir Ben said.

“It’s going to be very difficult to beat them but we believe we can. The America’s Cup has become very much a technical game so our affiliation with the Mercedes F1 team is very important, and we believe that a partnership like that long term will give us some great benefits.

“But right now we’ve got six teams for the next America’s Cup, it’s really exciting to see more teams entering. The French have just entered a team and it’s been a while since France has been in the Cup. We’ve got the Italians, America, Switzerland and Team New Zealand of course, so it’s a really good line-up. All of the teams are incredibly talented sailors and designers - it’s going to be a very tough competition.

“The transformation in the sport has been incredible over the past decade, it’s been phenomenal. When we did the America’s Cup in Valencia in 2007, the maximum speed was 15 knots (17 mph), now it’s about 50, it’s nearly three times the speed. It’s incredible what it’s done to the sport - not just from a sailor’s perspective but also I think for drawing attention from outside sailing and expanding the audience,” he said.

But the big question - are these new boats sailed or driven? “Good question. You still sail it. A lot of the fundamental principles of being in the right patch of wind, the wind shifts, obviously the sea state and dealing with that, it’s still all there, we’re just travelling at three times the speed,” Sir Ben said.
“It’s a fantastic venue and training base for our organisation, Palma, and like I said, long term, we’d love to have a permanent set-up here. Alongside the America’s Cup team we have the SailGP team, we have a pathway programme with a youth and women’s professional sailing teams. So we have quite a wide organisation within the sport and we’d love to be based here and build that up with longer-term aspirations.

“In the same way I can’t see why Mallorca couldn’t host an America’s Cup. It’s a great sailing venue, it’s got great sailing conditions. It’s got the great infrastructure here with the city of Palma and the America’s Cup is such an iconic sporting event. Now it’s going to be in Barcelona, but why couldn’t it be in Palma? We’ve already seen it in Valencia, so why not?

“In the meantime, I hope the fact that we’re based here has served to boost the interest in Palma and Mallorca as a sailing destination. I can’t thank the local authorities enough for all the help and assistance they’ve given us. I just hope we haven’t got in the way of too many ferries,” he said.

The America’s Cup, informally known as the Auld Mug, is the oldest international competition still operating in any sport and the cup was originally known as the ‘R.Y.S. £100 Cup’, awarded in 1851 by the British Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around the Isle of Wight. But despite having set sail in the UK, a British team has never won it. However, Sir Ben is confident that INEOS Britannia, named after King George V’s royal yacht, will become the first British team to lift the trophy.
And Sir Ben is not ruling out F1 drivers, particularly from Mercedes, popping down at some point to see how training and operations are going in Palma.