By John O'Callaghan
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Sailing legend Ben Ainslie has his sights on a British victory at the next America's Cup but is keeping his skills sharp and putting some new crew members to the test at the start of this year's Extreme Sailing Series in Singapore.
A four-time Olympic gold medalist and an America's Cup winner last year with Oracle Team USA, Ainslie told Reuters on Thursday that the tight circuits of "stadium racing" present tough challenges for sailors of the high-speed catamarans.
"It's about trying to get some space from the other boats, avoid collisions, deal with the wind because it's very turbulent with all of the buildings," he said before Friday's opening of the three-day event on Singapore's Marina Bay.
"The good thing is it makes the racing very interesting because there are a lot of ups and downs. You can be winning one minute and be last the next if you get stuck in a bad position. It's great for the spectators and for us as sailors."
Ainslie, skipper of the J.P. Morgan BAR boat, is perhaps the most famous sailor competing in Singapore. But the 12 teams taking part in the first of eight events on the Extreme Sailing Series global calendar include Dean Barker, Sarah Ayton, Anna Tunnicliffe and Igor Lisovenko. (www.extremesailingseries.com)
Now called Sir Ben after being knighted last year, Ainslie said he was already working on a British entry for the 35th America's Cup to be held in San Francisco. The date and class of boat for the event have yet to be announced.
"I would just love to see a British team win it because it started in Britain in 1851," he said.
"It's the oldest trophy in international sport and the American team won it, took it back to America and we've never seen the trophy since. As Brits, we have a very proud maritime heritage, so it would be nice if we could put that straight."
Ainslie said his team will not sign any corporate sponsors until the rules for the next America's Cup come out - which he expects in March - but it had "a good group of investors now in place to help us start".
"It's a challenge, obviously, raising a significant amount of funds to compete against the likes of Larry Ellison (co-founder of Oracle Corp) and some of these other guys," he said.
"There will be a series much like this series which will kick off in 2015 and 2016 and then the actual America's Cup boat itself is a development, so there will be a lot of design work to build a specific boat for our team."
The technology of sailing has "changed massively" in terms of the computer tools to help designers and the real-time data the sailors get about strains on the boat, its speed and the course to hone racing tactics, Ainslie said.
"We're seeing a lot of interest in sailing through the America's Cup and the Olympics in the UK and other countries and that's great for the sport. This exciting, fast racing is really inspiring the next generation," he said. "In Asia we're seeing a lot of that."
Becoming Sir Ben was "obviously a huge honor" but Ainslie, who turned 37 this month, has not let it go to his head.
"Ultimately it doesn't change anything," he said. "My family and friends still treat me exactly the same and give me a hard time - quite rightly."
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)