After watching the last two regattas from another continent, Sir Ben Ainslie will be back at the wheel of the British boat for SailGP’s regatta Friday and Saturday in Aarhus, Denmark.
While SailGP raced in Italy and England earlier this summer, Ainslie was in California with his wife, Georgie, for the birth of their second child, son Fox.
Ainslie did his best to follow the regattas, in which fill-in helmsman Paul Goodison helped the British at least hold serve at the top of the overall standings in the eight-team global league.
“I was glued to the results and the trackers and the TV and all of the rest of it, obviously willing the team on,” Ainslie said in a video interview. “There’s probably never been a more invested spectator in sport before. I didn’t get as far as throwing things at the TV, but it wasn’t far off.”
Defending champion Australia and Britain each have 22 points, with Australia technically in the lead after skipper Tom Slingsby bounced back from an uncharacteristic last-place finish in the previous regatta to sail his foiling 50-foot catamaran to victory the UK regatta in mid-July with three replacement crew members. France is third with 21 points, followed by the United States, Japan and Spain with 19, and Denmark and New Zealand with 17.
Meanwhile, the U.S. team’s streak of bad luck continued Friday during a practice race. Wing trimmer Paul Campbell-James, who’s from Southampton, England, broke his right leg when he was thrown out of the cockpit and landed on the wing sail after the boat popped out of the water during a high-speed maneuver in strong wind. Skipper Jimmy Spithill also was thrown out of the cockpit but wasn’t injured.
Jason Saunders, who previously raced as interim wing trimmer for the New Zealand SailGP Team earlier this season, will replace Campbell-James.
The U.S. boat was knocked out of the season-opening regatta after being hit by Team Japan. The Americans had the lead in the podium race in the last regatta before a rudder problem knocked them back into third place.
Ainslie, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion, said he’ll need to get back up to speed after missing two regattas.
“It’s really about teamwork, so I’ve got to do my job well and get back on pace as quickly as I can and not let the rest of the team down if I miss a beat that will put the rest of the team off their rhythm,” he said.
Although SailGP is loaded with gold medalists, world champions and former and current America’s Cup champions, a nice rivalry is developing between Ainslie and Slingsby, who were crewmates when Oracle Team USA staged a remarkable comeback to win the America’s Cup in 2013.
Slingsby, himself an Olympic gold medalist, is looking forward to having Ainslie back.
“He’s actually never lost a SailGP event. He’s gone 2 for 2,” said Slingsby, who led the Aussies to the inaugural championship in 2019 and the $1 million, winner-take-all prize. “It’ll be great to have him back. He’s sort of the one we’re gunning for.”
Ainslie beat Slingsby in the podium race of the Season 2 opening regatta in Bermuda in late April after the Aussies dominated the fleet races. Ainslie won the original opener of Season 2 in early 2020 in Sydney but that result was voided after the pandemic forced the league to punt the rest of the schedule into 2021.
Britain was sixth and fourth with Goodison at the helm. Australia had finishes of eighth and first. Japan, helped by Olympic gold medalist Nathan Outteridge, won the regatta in Italy.
The Aussies will be closer to full strength when flight controller Jason Waterhouse returns after sailing in the Olympics and grinder Kinley Fowler returns after being with his wife for the birth of their second child. Grinder Sam Newton remains with his family in Australia and is due back for the next regatta.
“We’re feeling good,” Slingsby said by phone. “It was a bit of a shock I guess with having a lot of replacements the last event but everyone sailed really well and we managed to sneak away with a win. We’ve got to find some consistency and try to be at the top of the fleet. We haven’t been too consistent so far.”
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