There is a mini Eden Park in Portsmouth Harbour concealing a team with the capital and clout to seriously challenge for the next America's Cup. Liam Napier takes a look at the crew plotting the downfall of Team New Zealand in their own backyard.

The base of Ineos Team UK feels well out of place next to the classical Bridge Tavern and neighbouring, understated town housing.

On this overcast afternoon, within earshot of the base housing two grand foiling monohulls, blue-collar fishermen chip away at daily routines and two female students fish off the dock in this quaint seaside town, gateway to the Isle of Wight.

Locals expected Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) - as they were for the last Cup - to last six months here.

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Five years on, there are 110 million reasons this is a completely different entity to the one Emirates Team New Zealand knocked out of the semifinal challenger series 5-2 in Bermuda.

Turns out 168 years is too long for Britain. They are now attempting to get their act together for a proper tilt at breaking their America's Cup duck.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Britain's richest man, and his £110 million ($218m) investment sure helps Ainslie's bid for history.

Of course, in the lavish America's Cup world, no amount of funding is ever too much.

The Ineos Team UK base in Portsmouth. Photo / Ineos Team UK
The Ineos Team UK base in Portsmouth. Photo / Ineos Team UK

"110 million sounds like a lot of money but that still creates constraints in what you can and can't do," Ainslie claims. "That's important because if you had a limitless budget you would probably go off chasing a lot of random ideas. You need to be forced to prioritise to be efficient. We've found a good balance there."

Whitened windows and sheet resembling Eden Park's bubble wrapped south stand shield the inner workings of Team UK's mini-stadium from public view.

Ben Ainslie and Ineos Team UK are desperate to break Britain's 168-year America's Cup drought. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Ainslie and Ineos Team UK are desperate to break Britain's 168-year America's Cup drought. Photo / Getty Images

Their hashtag slogan "Thereisnosecond" is emblazoned on entry, leaving no ambition ambiguity ahead of the 36th Auld Mug contest on the Hauraki Gulf.

"We frankly don't know any other way. We're programmed to win," Ainslie says.

"We realise how hard that is going to be. Every team has a huge amount of success and skill in design and management. Taking on Team New Zealand on home waters, that's going to be a huge challenge."

The Herald's tour is restricted to gym facilities where 17 sailors work out twice a day; the education centre, entertainment area and office space featuring 110 staff. All sit on separate floors.

No chance, unfortunately, of clapping eyes on the design or build rooms, and a request to speak with former Team New Zealand designer Nick Holroyd is rebuffed.

Ainslie obliges. This has, after all, been his obsession since he learned to sail in Cornwell and Peter de Savary led Britain's bid for the 1983 Cup on then graceful 12-metre yachts.

INEOS TEAM UK's first test boat T5 sailing in the Solent - the first of its kind for the 36th America's Cup - July 2018. Photo / INEOS TEAM UK
INEOS TEAM UK's first test boat T5 sailing in the Solent - the first of its kind for the 36th America's Cup - July 2018. Photo / INEOS TEAM UK

How times have changed.

Auckland, 2021, will feature 75-foot (22.8m) Formula 1 scale-models, complete with foil arms and projected 80km/h top speeds.

This will be racing on electric water.

"It's a very exciting concept of boat. It's a very expensive, technical challenge but the end result, the 75ft, will be seriously impressive."

Ainslie does not mention the London 2012 Olympic torch framed on his wall and his five medals, four gold, are glossed over as he discusses his childhood passion.

The first Cup was raced around the Isle of Wight, where he and other team members reside, and his pain is clear at Britain's failure to capture this treasured trophy.

"How can that be the case? We've had some amazing sailors, both inshore and offshore, and we've got great technical firepower as a nation. The secret is marrying those two.

"Why have we never won it? That's been a burning desire all through my sailing career.

"I've been fortunate to have some amazing experiences with the Olympics but all through that, I've had an eye on the Cup.

"It feels like a lifetime's work. It would be really special if we could pull it off."

This is Ainslie's fourth crack from the start line, previously working alongside Russell Coutts and Grant Dalton with Team New Zealand and Oracle, the latter as tactician for one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sport.

In his year with Oracle, he witnessed their spectacular AC72 capsize in San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge, and the death of close friend and fellow British Olympian Andrew "Bart" Simpson after a similar incident involving Artemis.

He then played his part in Oracle's remarkable 8-1 reversal.

"The whole experience was tumultuous. At the beginning, it looked like it would be a walkover by the Kiwis. I ended up getting drafted in. We made some changes and got the boat going really fast and it turned into the most amazing series.

"I remember coming away from that going 'what the hell just happened in the last 12 months'. From disappointment to tragedy and then this amazing America's Cup comeback. I learned a lot about what people can achieve if they really set their minds to it."

Last time out in Bermuda, under the BAR banner, Ainslie knew he was beaten before the start gun. Faced with financial difficulties, he says, his team were 12 months behind Team New Zealand.

"We struggled to catch up in the time we had, particularly on the design front.

"Some people might say you're a new team and getting to the semifinals is a reasonable result but when you put that much on the line you want to come away with the goods.

"That was very frustrating. It was difficult being in a leadership role knowing, ultimately, that you're probably not going to win but still trying to be positive.

"It's the first time in my sporting career I'd been in that position. I didn't enjoy it very much, truth be told, but it was a great learning experience."

Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe and Ben Ainslie have been plotting Team New Zealand's downfall in Auckland in 2021. Photo / Getty Images
Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe and Ben Ainslie have been plotting Team New Zealand's downfall in Auckland in 2021. Photo / Getty Images

The main difference now is Ratcliffe.

The pro-Brexit billionaire, who recently purchased Team Sky cycling, owns Swiss football club Lausanne and has attempted to buy the Chelsea and Nice teams, is a controversial backer given his Ineos petrochemicals company is one of the largest plastic manufacturers in the world.

Despite his estimated £21 billion ($41b) net worth, Ratcliffe is also based in Monaco as a tax-saving measure.

From a pure investment perspective, he brings a new ballpark.

The budget for this Cup campaign rose around 30 per cent and yet Team UK are light years ahead of their last cycle.

"It's helped massively. Having got know Jim over the past year he's a really good guy. For a private business, it has been phenomenally successful. He's competitive and loves his sport.

"He's got good insight and feedback. You want someone who is engaged. He knows exactly what the team is going through and he's a part of the journey."

Ratcliffe's fortune funded the recruitment of chief designer Holroyd, who spent 18 years with Team New Zealand, and four-time Cup winner Grant Simmer as chief executive.

Former Team New Zealand design guru Nick Holroyd (second from right) is now with Ineos Team UK. Photo / Getty Images
Former Team New Zealand design guru Nick Holroyd (second from right) is now with Ineos Team UK. Photo / Getty Images

"I've been so impressed by Nick's design skills but also his personality in leading the team. It's no good having all the ideas in your head if you can't share that. He's been a huge asset.

"There's no one better out there to manage one of these programmes than Grant. Guys like that are pivotal to the success of the team.

Inside the Ineos Team UK base in Portsmouth. Photo / Ineos Team UK
Inside the Ineos Team UK base in Portsmouth. Photo / Ineos Team UK

"I'm delighted with the changes we've made since the last Cup. We are in a good place. Some things you can't control but we work around those issues as they crop up. There's a lot of hard work ahead to get ourselves down to Auckland in a winning position.

"We're not arrogant enough to think we're doing everything right so we do a lot of analysis."

Team UK were the first crew to launch the T5 test boats last June.

And it didn't take long for Team New Zealand to phone and ask for updates.

As of last month, full-scale models are permitted for launch but Ainslie says teams wait on the foil arms after initial structural issues arose with an Italian designer.

"That's been frustrating for all of the teams."

Once they hit the water he predicts this class, and the expected return to traditional upwind starts which brings more gamesmanship and high-risk manoeuvres, will produce a better spectacle than Bermuda.

"The question mark is over the stability, the scale of the boat. We start finding out the answers in the next couple of months. The smaller boats are pretty twitchy. We had some pretty big, gnarly wipeouts which you wouldn't want to recreate on the scale of the 75ft."

Ben Ainslie is expecting Auckland 2021 to deliver a better spectacle than Bermuda. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Ainslie is expecting Auckland 2021 to deliver a better spectacle than Bermuda. Photo / Getty Images

The other challenge, with the full-size boats, is energy consumption.

Battery assistance will help adjust the foil arms but sail rig controls must be operated by manual hydraulic power which requires serious physical exertion.

Ratcliffe has provided staff with state-of-the-art bikes but that won't extend to emulating Team New Zealand's radical addition in Bermuda.

"The cycles are banned so we won't be seeing them this time around. Every team will be working bloody hard to get those gains so it will be fascinating to see how that comes together over the next couple of years."

With Dean Barker helming American Magic, Jimmy Spithill leading Luna Rossa and Peter Burling skippering New Zealand's defence, there is no shortage of quality competitors.

Peter Burling and Grant Dalton hold aloft the America's Cup during Team New Zealand's victory parade in Auckland in 2017. Photo / Photosport
Peter Burling and Grant Dalton hold aloft the America's Cup during Team New Zealand's victory parade in Auckland in 2017. Photo / Photosport

Ultimately, though, Ainslie again expects design innovation to decide this Cup.

"Because it's a new class of boat there will be some pretty big speed differences. That will be the difference between success or failure so I certainly hope we've got some tricks up our sleeve."

Those closely guarded tricks will determine whether Ainslie fulfils a lifelong ambition, or Britain's Cup drought extends to blow Ratcliffe's millions.