Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Exciting to be back racing the Finn

Ben Ainslie Blog, September 2010 - Exciting to be back racing the Finn

It was genuinely really exciting to be back racing the Finn again at Skandia Sail for Gold although I can honestly say I have never been so physically exhausted in my whole sailing career as I was at the end of the fourth day of the regatta!

Having not raced in the Finn since Beijing 2008, my expectations going into Sail for Gold were realistic; I knew my preparation had been minimal, that my sailing fitness was not going to be there and I was below my optimum racing weight meaning I was likely to struggle in the heavier breezes.

But overall I was really pleased and heartened by how things went and enjoyed the challenge of trying to overcome the things that I was finding more difficult or struggling with a bit.

Although I did feel underprepared for Sail for Gold, a few weeks beforehand I spent three days training with the Kiwi sailor Dan Slater and that made a big difference as my body got used to being back in the boat and hiking o ut again, muscle memory is a big thing and your body has to remember what it feels like to complete certain actions and techniques. As a result I knew I was going to be able to sail the boat and my boat handling was going to be okay it was just going to be the lack of racing practice and sailing fitness I was going to have to deal with.

I found going upwind in the breeze very difficult and quite slow, which was frustrating. Seeing it as a challenge and trying to get the best result I possibly could at the times I was struggling, was important and I was really pleased that even in those races I was able to post some reasonable results. That was a hugely positive mental boost and there is almost a brutal satisfaction that comes with pushing your body physically to its limits. There were also times I struggled with calling the breeze and getting on the right side of the shifts; I think I've got used to relying on Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson for that in our TEAMORIGIN racing so I need to get my eye back in on that front.

However I was really pleased with how my free pumping downwind developed throughout the week. On day one I found it hard physically and technique wise plus I had a lot of catching up to do. By the middle of the week I was as fast if not faster than a lot of the guys.

In terms of the rest of the fleet I was really impressed with the progress a lot of guys had made, and the hard work that has obviously gone in, particular my Skandia Team GBR teammate Giles Scott, who won the event, France's Jonathan Lobert and the Croatian Ivan Gaspic, who has probably been the stand-out sailor over the past couple of years. Boatwise some of the guys were trying out a few new things but there was nothing ground-breaking. My coach David Howlett has done a great job in making sure my Finn was competitive in-line with the rest of the fleet.

Being back with the rest of the Team GBR guys was great, I caught up and spent ti me with a lot of old friends and it just felt very familiar and comfortable. So much has gone on since Beijing, people have got married and had babies, and it was a very nice environment to be a part of again.

I am also clear now what the situation is regarding London 2012 qualification and next summer is going to be really important. After the Dubai Louis Vuitton Trophy America's Cup event in November it is my plan to go back into full-time Finn training over the winter, probably spending time in Southern Europe, with an eye on the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta in January being the next time I race in the Finn.

Before that there is still a lot of TEAMORIGIN racing to be done and America's Cup discussions to be had. As it stands the suggestion is that BMW Oracle are still very keen to proceed with a multihull for the next Cup and we have concerns with that, as not only is there a question mark over how good multihulls are for match racing but also going with a multihull with a wingmast clearly gives Oracle a massive design advantage over the rest of us.

The channels of communication are still open with BMW Oracle and we had some dialogue during the 1851 Cup at Cowes Week, which was a great event and saw some fantastic racing between the two teams. There will be an announcement on the 13th of September as to the class of boat, date and rules for the next event. This announcement is eagerly awaited by all involved. Russell Coutts and BMW Oracle have talked at length about improving the sport and taking the America's Cup into an exciting future, let's hope these changes are good for the sport on and off the water.
The other racing for TEAMORIGIN is the TP52 Audi Med Cup and the World Match Racing Tour. We have just completed two back to back regattas with the TP52 in Cartagena, Spain and the World Match Racing Tour in St Moritz, Switzerland.

Cartagena was a better event for us in the TP, we have struggled all season to find our grove in learning the boat and the fleet. We had a very disappointing coastal race where our forestay ram broke down and resigned us to last place in this high scoring race. We came back okay on the final day to finish third overall and be in the hunt for a top three finish for the season's standings. Team New Zealand continues to be the stand out boat in this class, sailing with good boat speed in most conditions and smart tactics.

St Moritz ended in disappointment after losing the semi finals and third place sail offs. In both races we were close to the opposition, with a penalty on them, but were unable to keep the race close enough to win. It was a frustrating way to end what had been a fun week and a fourth place finish, while not being a disaster, is not going to be good enough if we want to be in contention to win the tour. We are only competing in half of the tour and so every event for us is a counter. Sailing in St Moritz is a unique experience as the lake is very small and surrounded by mountains at 1800 meters above sea level. The air is thin and the wind incredibly shifty, apart from that it's the most stunning scenery anywhere in the World.

Next up is the Danish Open Match Race. Hopefully we can turn things around from Switzerland and sail better at sea level.