Ainslie joins One WorldBen Ainslie is already contracted to drive the IC 45 in the British Admiral's Cup team next summer, and has now signed a deal with the One World America's Cup team led by Craig McCaw, which could see the Laser gold medallist helming in the next Louis Vuitton Cup.
Ainslie has been in talks with McCaw's Seattle-based outfit for several months and it has been known for some time that the syndicate skipper Peter Gilmour has been very keen to bring him on board. The One World team already includes a number of key former Team New Zealand sailors and some top Americans, among them Morgan Larson and the McKee brothers.
Ainslie had been waiting to see if a British America's Cup team would materialise, but decided he could wait no longer as negotiations on that front continue, and with the outcome in doubt. The crunch came after a five-day visit to Auckland where One World is already in business racing USA 55 and USA 51.
Ainslie spent his first day on the mainsheet traveller and his second on the grinders before Gilmour gave him the steering wheels for the whole of the third day. It proved a memorable moment for the young Lymington-based star, who was impressed with the grace and power of the yachts and the challenge of assimilating all the information flowing through the afterguard.
When he got home, Ainslie discussed it again with his former Laser coach John Derbyshire and with Rod Carr, the secretary-general of the Royal Yachting Association who is organising the British bid, and decided to go for it. "With the residency application forms for foreign teams having to be filed before Christmas, it came to crunch time. I either went with them or stuck it out waiting for the British to go ahead," said Ainslie.
He said he was sad not to be involved with a British campaign which may be led by Star class silver medallist, Ian Walker. "I really hope the British thing does take off and, if it does, I'd be sad not to be part of that. But really there is a huge opportunity to learn from all the top people in the game at One World and it came to the point where I couldn't wait any longer."
Ainslie was tight-lipped about his renumeration but there can be little doubt that he will be handsomely rewarded by McCaw, whose syndicate will be one of the four big spenders in the next Louis Vuitton/America's Cup series. "It's a reasonable salary but at this stage in my career money is not the objective - it's all about learning and doing as much as I can to get to the top level," he said.
Ainslie is hoping he will get the chance to helm in the Louis Vuitton and even the America's Cup, but is realistic about his chances with tough competition expected within the One World syndicate for positions throughout all of its boats. "Helming is where my ability will be best used but it depends on the team and where they think I'd fit in best," he said.
The loss of the Laser gold medallist to a foreign team is a blow for the British effort, but in the long run the experience Ainslie will gain with One World could prove invaluable for Britain in future years. It is also doubtful whether Ainslie would have driven a British challenger, given the likely involvement of Andy Beadsworth in a British syndicate.
In the meantime Ainslie has to go and "live" in Seattle for a few months as he takes another big step out of Lasers. He will still fulfill his commitments in the Admiral's Cup but he is looking forward to getting back to Auckland for another taste of the big time. "I just learnt so much in the five days I was there - it was unbelievable," he said.