The countdown to the next America’s Cup has begun and once again Wales will have a man on board as Ineos Team UK challenge for the biggest prize in sailing, as Graham Thomas reports.
Welsh sailor Bleddyn Mon’s return to the America’s Cup can chart a course for youngsters to follow in his slipstream – according to the man at the head of the sport in Wales.
Mon has been named as a crew member of Ineos Team UK, who will compete against boats representing the USA and Italy for the right to challenge holders New Zealand in 2021.
It will be the second time the Bangor-born sailor has experienced the biggest race in the sport as he also raced in the America’s Cup of 2017.
For Gerwyn Owen, Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Cymru Wales chief executive, the selection highlights the progress that can be made from sailing clubs in Wales.
“It shows the wide range of opportunities within sailing and we wish Bleddyn all the best as part of Ineos Team UK and hope he can be part of the effort to win the Americas Cup,” says Owen.
“It is always nice to see some of our former squad sailors take the conventional route through to competing at the Olympics, such as Hannah Mills and Chris Grube, but this is also a great achievement for Bleddyn.
“He is a former Wales squad sailor who started to sail at Red Wharf Bay in Anglesey and at youth level he was on the podium in British, European and World levels.”
At just 27, Mon has already packed in an impressive amount of top level sailing experience and become something of a poster boy for the sport in Wales.
While Mills and Grube prepare for the Tokyo Olmpics next year in the smaller Olympic classes, Mon has followed Ineos Team UK skipper Ben Ainslie into ocean racing.
Now operating in a part of sailing that resembles motor racing’s F1 with its emphasis on cutting edge technology, and with a masters degree in engineering, Mon has also used his academic background to make himself doubly useful as both a design and analysis expert as well as a sailor.
Mon was a crew member on Turn The Tide On Plastic, which competed in the Volvo Ocean Race last year. One of the legs ended in Cardiff Bay, which allowed him to project to the world both the attractions of the Welsh capital as well as the sailing credentials and opportunities in Wales.
After utilising funding from the Talent Cymru scheme, he also made good use of the facilities at his local sailing club – Red Wharf Bay – after they received a development grant from Sport Wales.
He made the Olympic development squad and may have pursued his Games ambitions, had it not been for him taking part in the Cardiff Extreme Sailing event on behalf of Red Bull Racing, where he was undertaking an internship.
The 2013 Americas Cup was being televised and Mon says: “To be honest, that was the first time that I properly followed it. I knew about it but it was never really on my radar.
“I was Olympics, Olympics, Olympics. But when I saw the racing, I was like ‘s**t, that’s cool’. And I’d walk into the office at Red Bull and there were people who probably knew nothing about sailing who would talk about it. Something was going on, and that’s what I wanted to get into.”
He may now be involved in the most glamourous and richest end of the sport – Ineos Team UK is funded by billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe – but Mon says his love of sailing was founded on the beaches of North Wales.
“I grew up on Anglesey and as a family, we spent a lot of time going down the beach during summer holidays. We’re not a sailing family in any way. Essentially, we went to this beach and there was a sailing club there. Before we knew it, we’d had a go on a boat.
“I was part of a national squad when I was ten. There were people, coaches or whoever, that you could look at and see a bit of a route. I decided I was going to focus on sailing.”
His fitness background as something of an all-rounder who once played both cricket and rugby, has also paid dividends as he prepares again for the physical challenge of high speed ocean racing.
“On the sailing side, I’m back as a grinder, the same role on board as I had before. It’s the most physical on board so getting back into the gym has been a bit of a shock to the system.
“But essentially, most of my time right now is spent design side, developing and running tests and analysis.
“Personally, I feel like now, already having one Cup campaign under my belt, I have a better understanding of the process which will hopefully put me in a good place to perform well both on and off the water.”