(Reuters) – Britain’s Ben Ainslie has described Team New Zealand (TNZ) as the “All Blacks of the sailing world” in a nod to their dominant rugby team, as he highlighted the challenge of dethroning the America’s Cup holders next year.
Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history, is hoping to lead the British challenge for the most prestigious prize in yachting with INEOS Team UK in Auckland starting March 6, 2021.
But the 43-year-old expects a tough challenge from the likes of the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team, American Magic and Stars & Stripes Team USA in the challenger series – which begins on Jan. 15 and will determine who meets TNZ for the Auld Mug.
“All of these teams are really, really strong, so just to get through the Challenger Series we’ve got our work cut out,” Ainslie told Sky Sports.
“Then, if we get through that challenge, we’re effectively up against the All Blacks of the sailing world, on their home waters. So, it doesn’t get any tougher than that but that’s what makes it special, that challenge.
If you can achieve that goal (and win both) against that sort of line-up, it’s an incredible achievement.”
Participating teams are allowed to build only two AC-75 monohull foiling yachts for the regattas next year – including the 36th edition of the America’s Cup.
“They’re different. They’re the first monohulls, certainly on this scale, that are lifting up and flying. It’s really weird, that sensation of you coming away from the water,” Ainslie added.
“It actually feels really natural and when we get up there. We’re up around 50 knots (57 miles or 92 km per hour) of boat speed, which for a power boat is really going some and for a sailing boat is a pretty phenomenal speed.
“I think that it’s going to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, on record to win when you look at the line-up of the teams. We’re confident, we’ve got a great team.”
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Schmollinger