It was in 2012 that local hero, Sir Ben Ainslie cemented his position as the greatest Olympic sailor in history, after winning four golds and one silver medal in five consecutive Games.
And now members of the public can get closer than ever to the vessels that carried the 4x Olympic Champion, as they rest on display at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth.
The museum’s Head of Public Programs, Stuart Slade told Truthfal: “Ben Ainslie is a local, Cornish lad. He’s been very supportive of the museum, he’s lent us his boats which are very popular and for us, bring some of those stories up to date and make it relevant to young people today.”
Having found his sealegs at the Restronguet Sailing Club in Cornwall, Ainslie spent his early years training with his Father, Roddy Ainslie just along the coast from Falmouth Maritime Museum. Both the Laser and Finn Class dinghies on show were named Rita by Ainslie, after a token of a saint given to him by his mother before his first world championship campaign. In 1993, he took the first of his 11 World titles aged 16 and an Olympic Laser silver just three years later, during his Olympic debut in Atlanta. Ainslie’s momentum for medals picked up a pace and he upgraded to a gold in 2000 Sydney Games. It’s one of the most successful dinghy classes in sailing history and the boats have a simple design, excellent for racing performance.
Ainslie switched to Finn Class competition following his Laser success in Sydney and took three more Olympic titles in Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.
The Rita pair are two contemporary additions to a historic array of small boats and dinghies, currently on display across Falmouth Maritime Museum’s five floors. Boats from around the world sit suspended on wires from the ceiling, as part of a collection chronicling the developments of boat design, performance and maritime culture dating back to 10’000 years ago.
Stuart Slade told Truthfal: “In the main hall, we have part of the National Small Boat Collection. Sailing boats, fishing boats, racing boats; you can get close to them and imagine what it’s like to be inside. It’s a sensory experience for members of the public to gain a greater feel of our rich maritime culture.”
From dug-out canoes and Inuit Kayaks, to the wooden hulls and canvas sails of pioneering racing dinghies, the extensive collection are accompanied by stories of their history and crews and are visual evidence of how far Dinghy design has come.
Finn Dinghies share similar features to the Laser including an unsupported mast, but have several additional characteristics designed to optimise their performance. Glass reinforced hulls, carbon masts and Kevlar sails reduce a dinghy’s weight and drag in the water, whilst enhancing its wind catching ability and therefore, its speed. It’s features like this that aided Ainslie’s record-breaking run of success, as the competition rose up to meet him.
Though his reputation preceded him, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Ainslie during his final Olympic campaign. He started the final medal race of London 2012 with a two-point deficit behind Danish sailor Jonas Hogh-Christensen, who’d held the lead position since the first Finn Class leg. Despite a scuffle, Ainslie clawing back enough points to draw parallel with Jonas and secure gold in front of a home crowd, with an overall points lead. Ainslie was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2009 and received a knighthood from the Queen in 2013 for his services to sport, following his gold medal success in the London 2012 Olympics.
It seems fitting that Ainslie’s most decorated vessels have returned to his native Cornwall, mixing their record breaking history with the boats which came before them.
Visit the Falmouth Maritime Museum website for more information.