THROUGHOUT a storied career that has firmly established him as the most successful sailor in Olympics history, Ben Ainslie has taken his sporting talents all over the world from Argentina to Greece to Japan.
This weekend, however, is the first time the 37-year-old Briton is competing in Singapore. The Republic is the first stop of this year's Extreme Sailing Series competition, which will see sailors from 12 teams race for glory in eight different cities including Saint Petersburg, Sydney and Istanbul.
Ainslie, a four-time Olympic gold medal winner, is making his first competitive appearance on the waters since last September's America's Cup when he helped Oracle Team USA recover from a 1-8 deficit against Team New Zealand to win the oldest trophy in international sport.
The strapping athlete is the captain of the JP Morgan BAR boat in Singapore. BT Weekend caught up with Ainslie - or Sir Ben, as he is more popularly known back home after being knighted last year - on the first day of competition on Thursday at the Promontory@Marina Bay.
Why did you decide to take part in Extreme Sailing Series?
Ben Ainslie (BA): For us as a team, it ticks a number of boxes for our sponsors, JP Morgan. It's a great way to activate that relationship on a global scale.
As a sailing team with one eye on the next America's Cup in 2017, it's a great way to bring in new talent, try different relationships, sailing with new people and just to get out there and race. The Extreme Sailing Series is also the only circuit this year in a multi-hull (boat) akin to the America's Cup.
Speaking of the America's Cup, you have said that you want to fulfil your dream of leading a British team in the competition, which is the most prestigious in all of yacht racing. How are your plans shaping up?
BA: We want to compete, and we have been building up the team for a couple of years now. Since the end of the last America's Cup five months ago, we've been working full-time on this project, be it bringing in different partners or talking to private investors and commercial partners.
Recently, we've started to try and put together the right sailing team and the right design team. The America's Cup is a design race - a little bit like the Formula One of sailing. That's really been our focus and it's been going well. We're waiting for the set of rules for the 2017 America's Cup, which we expect will be out in March this year. Presuming those rules are realistic, we will look to enter the event.
In your opinion, how has the sport evolved over the years?
BA: Everything is so different from when I first started out all those years ago. We are much more reliant on computers when it comes to the design of our boats. Twenty years ago, designers would still draw the lines of the boat using a pen and paper. Now it's all done with computers, including the modelling and simulation.
What do you make of Singapore as a sailing venue? What's the vibe here like for you?
BA: This is the first time I've been to Singapore, and I'm really excited. I'm very impressed by the city and the people.
As a sailing venue, for this kind of racing, this sort of stadium racing, if you like, it's perfect. It's probably one of the best venues I've seen anywhere in the world. We're right in the heart of the Central Business District so it's perfect.
How are you coping with the hot and humid conditions here?
BA: Ideally if we could be more acclimatised to the heat, that would help. It's very physical out there so it's hard for the guys who are already working so hard. We've just got to keep drinking a lot, keep the fluids coming, stop the dehydration and just deal with this extreme heat.
Sailing is gaining in popularity in Singapore. What would be your advice to someone who is picking up the sport for the first time?
BA: I think this is the perfect time. You already have the best youth team in the world in the Optimist class - the biggest class of boat that kids sail on up until the age of 15. For the last five years, Singapore has been the dominant nation. It's very impressive.
So if you can take that talent, nurture it through youth level and then senior level, there's no reason why Singapore shouldn't be winning gold medals at Olympic Games and be successful in sailing. There's obviously a lot of potential over here.
- The Singapore leg of the Extreme Sailing Series is on until Sunday at the Promontory@Marina Bay. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.extremesailingseries.com