SAILING legend Sir Ben Ainslie has confirmed Weymouth and Portland could host the America’s Cup if a British bid for the prestigious event goes ahead.
The four times Olympic champion inspired Oracle Team USA to one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history by winning the coveted trophy off San Francisco recently.
Now Sir Ben – who is a director of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy – is in talks about launching a British team with the borough as a possible base in a bid to bring the prestigious trophy home for the first time since 1851.
Sir Ben, 36, who returned to the UK on Monday, told the Echo: “Yes there is the possibility of a British team for the 35th edition of the America’s Cup.
“It’s a matter of weeks, literally.
“I’ve got some key meetings with some of these people and we’ll talk pretty honestly about whether we think it’s realistic to get a campaign together.
“I cannot say yet where the base would be if we could get a British team together, everyone would expect Weymouth and Portland to be up there.
“The next few weeks will tell a lot about a potential campaign and moving forward”.
The possibility of a British team being based in the borough has been welcomed – particularly at the Royal Dorset Yacht Club which in 1996 won the rights to host the event.
Commodore Leighton Grey said: “I am sure we would be fully behind it.
“We would do whatever we could to help in that respect.”
Mr Grey added: “Certainly we have the history to help back any sort of bid and would use any contacts that we have to support a bid.”
In 1996 the Royal Dorset Yacht Club, which has a replica of the America’s Cup, won the right to host the event.
The aim was for a British team to win the trophy – sport’s oldest – in New Zealand in 2000 before defending it off Weymouth and Portland four years later but the syndicate behind the bid was forced to back out because it could not drum up enough sponsorship.
More recently, businessman Sir Keith Mills launched a British challenge under the Team Origin name with Sir Ben and fellow Olympians Iain Percy and the late Andrew Simpson but pulled the plug on the bid by 2010.
Peter Allam, who is chief executive of the sailing academy, said: “It would be a wonderful opportunity for Weymouth and Portland if it could happen.
“It depends on what format the cup evolves into. The type of boats are changing each time.”
He added: “I was astounded at the number of people who don’t normally watch sailing who tuned in.
“It wasn’t just because of Sir Ben but was also because of the type of boats they were sailing and the coverage.”
Team Oracle founder Larry Ellison will decide the venue and date of the next Cup but it is likely to be in 2016 and in America although the type of boats may change to make the contest more affordable to more challengers.
Coun Ian Bruce, who is the borough council’s tourism spokesman, said that Portland might also be the base for a foreign team if not a British team.
He added: “It is the best place for people to come and train.
“Our profile would go even higher.
“We should welcome anyone who wants to come along and utilise our unique facilities at Portland.”
The Royal Dorset Yacht Club, on Custom House Quay in Weymouth, has a replica of the America’s Cup.
Members of the different sailing clubs in Weymouth crewed Britain’s 1958 America’s Cup reserve team off New York.
They sailed under the burgee, or flag, of the Royal Dorset Yacht Club and were presented with the replica trophy after beating the American reserve team.
A team from the Royal Yacht Dorset Club also battled through the final of the Mini-America’s Cup off New Zealand in 1997 in the build up to the 2000 America’s Cup but lost to the hosts.