If you want to see who’s interested in challenging for the next America’s Cup, the line-up for this year’s Extreme Sailing Series is a pretty good indicator. In the absence of any Cup activity while Russell Coutts and Oracle Team USA thrash out the detail of the next edition, the globe-trotting Extreme 40 catamaran circuit profits from this hiatus by being considered the next best option for staying race-fit for short-course multihull racing.
The two poster boys of the 2014 season are Sir Ben Ainslie and Franck Cammas, a massive coup for the Extreme Sailing Series. Ainslie was there with his JP Morgan BAR Racing AC45 at the London Boat Show in January, and is using the Extreme 40 season as a focus for his America’s Cup challenger campaign, about which he is sounding increasingly confident. If Ainslie has indeed managed to secure seed funding for a British campaign, enabling him to lock in the services of some key sailors and designers, this must rank as one of his greatest achievements. Bearing in mind we still know none of the big details of the next America’s Cup - the when, the where, the what - Ainslie’s skills of persuasion in the boardroom must rank alongside his legendary skills on the water.
Cammas is one of the most feted offshore sailors in France, and with the backing of French bank Groupama he is one of the most commercially successful. Cammas and Groupama embarked on a two-edition campaign to win the Volvo Ocean Race but when they won the round-the-world race at their first attempt in 2012, Groupama felt there was little commercial value in going round again. Instead, Cammas has embarked on an Olympic campaign in the new semi-foiling catamaran, the Nacra 17, and revealed his interest in the Cup world with an assault on the Little America’s Cup in Falmouth last September. Staged in wing-masted C-Class catamarans, Cammas’s hydrofoiling Groupama boat blew the opposition off the water.
A few weeks later, Team France was announced, an America’s Cup campaign that pulls together the talents of Cammas, Vendée Globe double-winner Michel Desjoyeaux, another offshore legend Olivier de Kersauson and Stephane Kandler, who led Areva Challenge in the 2007 America’s Cup. Like Ainslie, Cammas will use the Extreme Sailing Series as a launchpad for the team’s ambitions.
Team Australia, the new Challenger of Record, was proud to see Bob Oatley’s 100-footer Wild Oats XI take line honours victory for the seventh time in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race at Christmas. However, word is that the new team is struggling to match the salary demands of the established Cup teams and is having to recruit from further afield. For the Extreme Sailing Series, Sydney’s young 18ft skiff world champion Seve Jarvin is steering the GAC Pindar boat, whilst also being touted as part of Team Australia.
Recruiting skiff talent is certainly in vogue at the moment, with Emirates Team New Zealand announcing the signing of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, the 49er Olympic silver medallists and reigning world champions. Could the 24-year-old Burling replace the 41-year-old Dean Barker as skipper?
The assessment of Burling’s potential will start this season on the Extreme Sailing Series, with the Kiwis fielding a team that will see Barker and Burling take it in turns to steer the black boat at the eight events.
Team boss Grant Dalton comments: "Peter Burling may ultimately be the best thing this country has ever seen - but he is not there yet. If Dean Barker is not driving the boat in 2017 - and Dean will be very much involved in that decision - Peter Burling will have to take it from him.”
Dalton added: "Pete's a good guy; he's just a sponge, absorbing information. But he has to be more than just a good sailor. He has to get guys working for him and around him and inputting into all the processes - like design and so on - that Dean has done so well. Whatever decision is made, Dean will still be a mentor."
Make sure you've signed up to our FREE NEWSLETTER where we bring you exclusive interviews with the world's greatest sailors...