Leigh looking for third time lucky!
Having grown up on the Isle of Wight, Leigh McMillan knows a few things about the America’s Cup. It was a very quick decision to re-sign with INEOS Britannia for his third consecutive America’s Cup with the British Challenger.
“What keeps bringing me back is the unwavering desire to win the America’s Cup and bring it back to Britain, well not just Britain but to where I grew up, the Isle of Wight. We have a job to complete.”
McMillan learned to sail on the Isle of Wight from a young age, with his father who was a skipper of classic yachts all around the world. The first boat Leigh sailed was a hand-made wooden Optimist called, ‘Bubbles’. Leigh quickly progressed into dinghies, and then into the single-handed Laser Radial where he made the RYA’s Youth Squad and won the Youth Nationals in the Radial in 1988. That win opened up possibilities for Leigh, as he got introduced to multihulls and finished sixth at the ISAF Youth World Championships in South Africa.
In 1999, Leigh got financial support and bought the Tornado, the Olympic multihull class, which was the beginning of Leigh’s journey to the Olympics. Leigh went on to proudly support Great Britain the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics in the Tornado, with teammate Will Howden. While it was disappointing for them to not come away with a medal, Leigh learned and achieved a lot over those eight years, including winning two world championships.
After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Tornado was dropped as an Olympic event and Leigh retired from Olympic sailing, but stepped straight into the Extreme Sailing Series circuit. At the helm he went on to win three Extreme Sailing Series and in 2015 managed a clean sweep of both the ESS and GC32 Racing Tour in foiling multihulls.
Leigh remembers watching the 33rd America’s Cup with the foiling monohulls and wanted to take his Extreme 40 experience to the next step. Fast forward to 2015 and he got his chance, joining Ben Ainslie’s British Challenger, as the back-ups helmsman. Since then, Leigh has been a hugely important part of the team, transforming into a flight controller in the last AC in Auckland.
“I’m super excited and having a couple of campaigns under my belt. I know what I’m in for now, and super excited to be in a position where we are competitive. Going into this campaign, we have to be confident that we are competitive, that will give us a good chance of winning.”
As he joins INEOS Britannia for his third campaign, he has learned lessons along the way. “It is a design race as much as a sailing one. We learned a lot from last campaign and having continuity within the Class rule means we can take a lot of those lessons forward as a team and move forward.”
After AC36 in New Zealand, there were mixed feelings about the team’s performance, but Leigh knew he had to come back. “We did a fantastic job of making ourselves competitive in the World Series in the months leading up to the Cup, but it was incredibly frustrating that we didn’t have more to offer. It has given me a desire to do and be better this time around.”
As the team starts to set up their winter training camp in Palma de Mallorca later this year, Leigh is most looking forward to “being out on the water sailing, getting some training under our belt and accelerating our development program to how much we can throw at the race boat.”
Team Principal, Ben Ainslie comments on Leigh, “Leigh is one of the most talented sailors we have in the UK across high performance boats. He has a really good feel for foiling, as a helmsman, but also huge amounts of experience as a flight controller, and trimmer. He also has a huge desire and drive for himself and the team to be successful.”
With Barcelona, announced as the venue for the 37th Campaign, Leigh is looking forward to “lining up the AC75 on the start line with all the other teams and having that feeling of anticipation and excitement of what’s ahead. You always wonder if we’ve done the job right this time. The first line up with other teams and figuring out where you’re at, there’s nothing quite like it. We’ve got to prepared for anything.”
Great to have you back Swizz!