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First Alex Thomson, now Ben Ainsley?

First Alex Thomson, now Ben Ainsley?

How frustrating it must be to have a boat costing £120 million and a team of the world’s top sailors yet they haven't been able to take part in all the practice races in Auckland.

The risks of a foiling boat hitting something when sailing around the world in the Vendee Globe are understandable but in the managed waters of Auckland you would have thought the boat costing that much could at least perform technically. Apparently, the super-computer system analyses 1 billion pieces of data every day yet the boat had to retire on its first trip around the racecourse. It seems that the Skippers of these boats are no longer the crucial factor. These have become races for designers and high-tech builders.

There was a time when if something went wrong on a yacht the skipper and crew would just sort it out. If the gaff broke, down it would come, the dinghy oars would be lashed alongside with an old rope, then up it would go again. To be fair Alex Thomson had a bloody good go at repairing his structural problems in his carbon fibre boat and his methodical work might even have stood up to the Southern Ocean, but then his rudder hit something. It is hardly surprising these things will break if they hit UFO’s at speed and I suppose there is no point in entering the race unless your boat will be competitive. But has it all gone too far?

What exactly are we following, the skill of the sailors, or the skill of the technical department? Who exactly gets the last say in the boats design? Is it the carbon fibre specialists, the foil designers, the hydraulics engineers, the sail makers, or the even the Skippers?

The concept of a boat designed by committee is not new. Francis Chichester asked John Illingworth and Angus Primrose to design his Gypsy Moth to sail around the world. The process was a disaster with Chichester wanting a much smaller boat and insisting on a ketch rig, but the designers wanted a schooner rig and separate rudder. Chichester never liked the cantankerous boat described by some as perhaps one of the worst racing yachts ever built.

I shall follow the racing in Auckland with great interest but having heard about the lacklustre boat performance and rumours of low moral in the British team my hopes will not be raised too high. Let's hope I'm proved wrong. Should be fun nevertheless!
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