Will he or won't he? Can Britain's golden wonder Sir Ben Ainslie mount an America's Cup challenge? British participation in the 35th America's Cup seems to be the biggest question in UK sailing right now, at least it was at the London Boat Show on Wednesday when the otherwise lacklustre event came alive for the day.
History proves that it only takes the slightest hint that a British team may be formed for an America's Cup campaign for speculation to start, but this time it's different. While the keen sailing chatter from the Guinness stand to internet forums has sprung up as you'd expect, what sets this potential campaign apart is the incredible interest from the mainstream media.
Widely, (and of course mistakenly), credited with singlehandedly rescuing the Americans from a humiliating defeat in San Francisco last September, Sir Ben has hit superstar status thanks to the Fleet Street and national TV launch pads. It is fantastic to see such widespread interest and enthusiasm, particularly for a sport that we are so often told is niche and elitist. But Wednesday proved that at the moment at least, sailing and the America's Cup can be talked about in public and everyone wanted a piece of Ainslie. A quote, a hint of what was to come, the press wanted to hear that his team was going to bring the world's oldest international sporting trophy back home and that everything he touched this season would turn to gold.
But Ainslie is careful with his words, he's seen plenty of false dawns, he's been in plenty of America's Cup campaigns and he knows the potential hurdles, pitfalls and frustrations that lies ahead.
Once the scramble for sound bites, pieces to cameras and endless requests for autographs had died down and as the last visitors were ushered out of Excel, I spoke to Ben in a quiet corner of the show about the future and his proposed route to the next America's Cup.
"We've been working hard on the funding to get to the point where we can realistically start moving forward," he said. A familiar quote, but what does that mean for the team?
"We've had a great deal of support on the private funding side which has given us the confidence to start pulling the right people together such as the designers and sailors. But having said that we still have to wait for the protocol to come out. We don't want to commit to too much until we know for sure what the next Cup entails."
Given his experience at the helm of Team Origin, the British campaign for the ill fated 33rd America's Cup, Ainslie knows better than most how easily Cup plans can change and how much it might cost just waiting.
But how many people has he been able to secure?
"There are always key people that anybody would want in their team and some of those have been snapped up by the big teams but I'm pretty happy with the people we've been talking to on the design side. Given the talent we have in the UK on the sailing front I think we'll be fine, plus we have four years to build up those important relationships. If you look at Oracle last summer, of the most important sailors that ended up on the boat there were some like Kyle Langford and others that few had ever heard of a year before the Cup.
"The key thing is the funding, the management team and the design team."
Some of the rumours doing the rounds at present suggest that he has pledges of getting on for half of the estimated $100million campaign budget. Yet such rumours are just that and Ainslie would make no comment on the actual amount that has been promised so far. Indeed, even the budget figure itself is unknown until teams know what boat, where and the format that the next Cup will take.
Yet despite such significant unknowns, how confident was he that Ben Ainslie Racing would be taking part?
"I'm confident," he said with his characteristic serious smile.
In percentage terms?
"I'm confident. But what I will say is that we've reached the point with our private investors and the commitments that we've got means that we have reached the target by which we can build a team and then sell the commercial side of our campaign."
Among the many unknowns, what seems pretty certain is that foiling cats will be the weapon of choice for the next event. This being the case the cost of a campaign looks likely to remain pretty high, at least when compared to the monohulls of 2007. Following that event Sir Keith Mills' Team Origin made it clear that their campaign would need to be in for at least two cycles to stand any chance of winning the Cup. Did Ainslie think this would be the case this time around?
"My views have changed a bit on that," he said. "I think we could do it in one campaign. Certainly we would be setting out to try to win otherwise there's little point in doing it. Having said that, we'd like to build up something in the long term with BAR, perhaps different forms of racing, but for the meantime our focus is on the America's Cup and putting everything into our campaign."
So while Ainslie continues the fund raising meetings and waits for details of the next Cup, he has also signed up for a full season on the Extreme 40 circuit.
"There is no other acing circuit in the multihulls at such a high standard, so it was a bit of a no-brainer really," he said. "It gives us great activation for our long term backers J P Morgan which is critical on the commercial side as well as allowing us to get out on the water and build up relationships with some of the sailors. It ticks a lot of boxes."
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Richard Gillin/Gambo7