A guide to the Prada Cup and America’s Cup as INEOS Team UK go in search of victory
A team led by the world’s most successful Olympic sailor is facing a final tense battle to win a chance to bring the world’s oldest sporting trophy home to the UK for the first time in 170 years.
While few of us will ever know the thrill of skimming through the ocean spray in a state-of-the-art racing yacht, you do not have to be an expert to appreciate the excitement of the America’s Cup.
Starting on February 13, INEOS Team UK - skippered by Sir Ben Ainslie - will go head to head in their boat Britannia with Italian team Luna Rossa for the right to challenge holders New Zealand for the iconic trophy.
They must win seven of a possible 13 races to secure victory in the Prada Cup - the last hurdle before entry into the America’s Cup final.
The elite team representing the UK and the Royal Yacht Squadron has another Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott from Huntingdon as the crew's tactician, responsible for getting the yacht around the course as fast as possible.
The INEOS Team UK boat has also been aided by a Cambridge company.
Coderus, a software and app development company, has created a product that provides vital in-race data aimed at giving INEOS Team UK a competitive edge.
It was built specifically for Ineos Team UK and quickly compiles and displays live tactical data on several tablets located on the boat to allow for quick decisions to be made regarding race tactics.
Armchair guide to the America’s Cup
The America’s Cup, the pinnacle of yachting, was first contested in 1851. It is the oldest trophy in international sport, predating the modern Olympic Games by 45 years.
It dates from when the schooner America won a race around the Isle of Wight - home of the Royal Yacht Squadron - against a fleet of British yachts to claim the 100 Guinea Cup.
The prize was donated to the New York Yacht Club on condition it was to be a perpetual challenge cup for friendly competition between nations. The race was named the America’s Cup, after its first winner.
The victory marked the start of the longest winning streak in the history of sport. The United States held onto the trophy for 132 years, fighting off challenges 24 times.
Over the years the race has bedazzled the rich and powerful, with tycoons such as tea merchant Sir Thomas Lipton, aviation pioneer Sir Thomas Sopwith, media mogul Ted Turner, and the Aga Khan pouring fortunes into attempting to win it.
The USA finally lost the trophy to Australia in 1983.
Only four nations - the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland - have ever won the America’s Cup.
The sterling silver trophy, affectionately known as “The Auld Mug” was made by the Royal jewellers Garrard. It was originally a bottomless ewer, but over the years more bases have been added to allow for more winners’ names to be engraved.
On March 14, 1996, a man entered the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron’s clubroom and seriously damaged the cup with a sledgehammer. He served 18 months in prison for criminal damage. The trophy was repaired by Garrard.
Boats that compete for the America’s Cup are at the cutting edge of design and technology. Over the years twin-hulled catamarans and single-hulled yachts have been used.
Now, certain criteria are specified, regulating all aspects of the boat to ensure fair and exciting racing, while leaving plenty of freedom for innovation to flourish.
For the 2121 race competitors will sail in AC75-class hydrofoil monohulls, capable of 50 knots (almost 60mph), with a weight limit of 6520kg, not including sails or crew. Mast height is 87ft and length 75ft.
The 2017 America’s Cup was won by Team Emirates New Zealand who beat the USA.
The most successful-ever America’s Cup competitor is 17-times world champion Russell Coutts, who has been in the winning crew five times, three times as skipper
The 2021 America’s Cup
This will be the 36th time the race has taken place. The trophy holder is known as The Defender, and the other entries compete to be The Challenger.
Normally a world series of preliminary regattas is held around the world but last year they were cancelled due to Covid.
Three teams, Ineos Team UK with their yacht Britannia,and rivals Italy (Luna Rossa) and the USA (American Magic) headed for Aukland, New Zealand in December to start a gruelling series of races.
Britannia suffered problems in the early stages and adjustments had to be made.
American Magic was the first to be eliminated, leaving the UK and Italy to square up in the Prada Cup which will be held between February 13 and 22.
There will be a maximum of 13 races, and the victor will be the first to win seven.
Waiting on the horizon for the winners is the formidable New Zealand entry, Te Rehutai.
The world-class UK team has a total of eight Olympic medals and 16 America’s Cup wins between them.
To see more go to ineosteamuk.com
Sir Ben Ainslie, who was knighted in 2012, is in charge of Ineos Team UK’s yacht Britannia. He is the most successful sailor in Olympic history, winning medals at five consecutive Games from 1996 onwards, including gold at the four consecutive Olympics (Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London) held between 2000 and 2012.
Italy’s crew will be led by Max Sirena, who is taking part in his seventh America’s Cup challenge. He has been involved in two wins, including in a management role with New Zealand’s victorious 2017 team.
Seventeen times world champion and Olympic silver medallist Glenn Ashby, who led the winning New Zealand team in 2017, takes charge again as the skipper of Te Rehutai.
Where to watch
Every race of the America’s Cup series will be shown live on Sky Sports. The BBC will also be showing the final of the Prada Cup, as well as decisive race days during the America’s Cup match itself. The America’s Cup YouTube channel has a live stream
But with Aukland 13 hours ahead of GMT, the live races are expected to take place between 3am and 5am UK time.