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Spray of champagne welcomes Britannia to America's Cup waves

Sir Ben Ainslie hopes to rule the America's Cup waves with a cutting-edge boat named Britannia. Ainslie's INEOS Team UK christened its first AC75 boat with a spray of champagne Friday in Portsmouth. Ainslie stood by as Julia Ratcliffe, the daughter of team owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, sprayed champagne onto Britannia's bow rather than smashing the bottle on the bowsprit of the fantastical-looking, 75-foot foiling monohull.

"The quest to win the 36th America's Cup has required a fresh approach, a new strategy and serious support from INEOS to focus entirely on the mission in hand," said Ainslie, who is driven to become the first Englishman to hoist the Auld Mug in victory. "I'm hugely proud of the team's commitment to design and build our first race boat. It's taken a serious amount of hard work and now we can't wait to get Britannia out sailing on the Solent."

Each team can build two boats for the 36th America's Cup cycle, which will conclude in 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. Britannia is the fourth boat to be launched in recent weeks. The first to hit the water was defending champion Emirates Team New Zealand's Te Aihe — dolphin in the language of the indigenous Maori — followed by Defiant, the first boat built by the New York Yacht Club's American Magic team. Italy's Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team launched Luna Rossa on Wednesday.

Britain has been trying without success for the better part of 168 years to win back the silver trophy it lost to the schooner America in 1851 in a race around the Isle of Wight, not far from INEOS Team UK's base. Ainslie represents Britain's best chance yet. The most-decorated sailor in Olympic history with four gold medals and one silver, Ainslie helped Oracle Team USA successfully defend the America's Cup in 2013. He then launched his own syndicate for the 2017 America's Cup.

Ratcliffe named his AC75 in homage to one of Britain's most famous racing yachts, Britannia, which was built in 1893. Its name was in turn taken from James Thomson's poem "Rule Britannia!" written in 1740. That poem, of course, contains the line, "Rule, Britannia, rule the waves."

It just hasn't ruled the waves in the America's Cup, the oldest trophy in international sports. INEOS Team UK, which is backed by the Royal Yacht Squadron, will test Britannia on the Solent before heading to Sardinia for winter testing. The first competition in the AC75s will be in the America's Cup World Series regatta in Cagliari in late April. INEOS Team UK plans to launch a second boat in late 2020.

The AC75 is "unlike anything ever seen on the water before," INEOS Team UK chief designer Nick Holroyd said. "It's hugely ambitious and it sets out an entirely new type of boat and with only 18 months to design and build there comes challenges, but that's what makes the Cup so exciting."

The broad, low-slung AC75 boats replace the foiling catamarans used in the last two editions of the America's Cup. They will be capable of speeds of up to 50 knots (57 mph). From some angles, the AC75 looks like a giant nautical insect or beast. It blends the tradition of a monohull with the modern advancement of foiling, which is all the rage in sailing.

The AC75 will use twin canting T-foils to help lift the hull completely out of the water in order to increase speed. In the normal sailing mode, the AC75 will skim above the waves on the leeward foil and rudder, with the windward foil raised out of the water to reduce drag. Both foils can be lowered in pre-starts and through other maneuvers to provide extra lift and roll control, which also will be useful in rougher sea conditions.

Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson

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