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Sir Ben Ainslie HQ sets course for America's Cup

One of Britain’s greatest Olympians has called on local contractors to collaborate closely and build rapidly to deliver him the Portsmouth base needed to win GB’s first ever America’s Cup.

Project: Ben Ainslie Racing HQ
Client: Ben Ainslie Racing
Contract value: £15m
Region: South-east
Main contractor: Allied Developments
Groundworks subcontractor: Mackleys
Structural engineer: Reuby and Stagg
Glazing subcontractor: Prism
Start date: October 2014
Completion date: May 2015

Ever since the first America’s Cup which saw 15 yachts set off round the Isle of Wight in 1851, winning the most prestigious team trophy in the sailing world has eluded Britain.

But Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful British sailor of his generation, is determined to change all that.

The four-time Olympic gold medallist has embarked on a new assault on the title, having tasted success in the competition with the winning American team in 2013, and is building a £15m base for his newly assembled crew that he hopes will clinch the title in 2017.

The new facility for Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) is being constructed on an old quay in Portsmouth on the Solent - the site of the first ever race in 1851.

As you might expect from someone as determined and focused as Sir Ben, the facility - a giant boat shed with offices and visitor space - is progressing at a rate of knots and will be completed this month.

Since starting on site just eight months ago, contractor Allied Developments has cleared the old industrial site and erected the four-storey steel frame ready for handover, overcoming major logistical challenges including limited crane access.

One major factor in its success has been the man in charge of the project Jonathan Goring, who marries a past life as a former professional sailor
with vast experience of the construction industry as the former managing director of Capita Symonds.

Mr Goring previously led Capita’s successful bid to become the Defence Infrastructure Organisation’s strategic business partner, in consortium with engineer URS and professional services firm PA Consulting.

Labour of love

The £400m deal was a long time in the making, with procurement lasting almost two years.

Mr Goring took the lead role on the bid full-time in early 2013 in his previous role at Capita, and left the firm in May 2014 after winning the DIO contract.

“I thought I’d given up construction nine months ago. After the DIO deal, I thought that was it and I’d said goodbye to the industry”

Jonathan Goring, Ben Ainslie Racing

As he was a professional sailor himself who raced for Great Britain, it’s a fair question as to whether he took on the role of BAR’s team base project director as a labour of love.

“I would say so,” he says.

“I came to this through sailing, not construction. I thought I’d given up construction nine months ago. After the DIO deal, I thought that was it and I’d said goodbye to the industry.”

But here he is now, building the base for his friend Ben Ainslie’s tilt at the America’s Cup.

Mr Goring’s team and budget are completely separate from the sporting arm of the team, to ensure that construction has no impact on the bid to win the cup in 2017.

Building at a rate of knots

The building has gone up very quickly to ensure that all remains on track for this ambitious aim. It was first conceptualized in December 2013, with planning drawings submitted in May 2014.

Planning permission was granted in late June and site clearance began immediately, with construction proper on site not beginning until October. Completion is set for later this month, less than a year later.

Mr Goring says that BAR has taken a “novel” approach to the building due to the time constraints.

“It’s been phenomenally fast. We haven’t had time to engage in a traditional way, so we’ve used our relationships with industry to work with people who have a track record in this kind of stuff”

Jonathan Goring, Ben Ainslie Racing

“It’s been phenomenally fast. We haven’t had time to engage in a traditional way, so we’ve used our relationships with industry to work with people who have a track record in this kind of stuff,” he says.

“It’s more of a construction management arrangement, where we’ve packaged up the whole building – we’ve developed package arrangements, supplier arrangements with organisations we know and trust.

“We’re effectively acting as construction manager.”

There is a main contractor, Allied Developments, which has managed the “early packages”, as Mr Goring puts it – the groundworks, structural steel and building envelope.

“But we’ve been very active, too, and have been right in the nuts and bolts of it,” he says.

Running a tight ship

To keep to the tight schedule, collaboration between different specialists has been vital, with the normal order of construction disrupted somewhat.

“We were fitting air handling units, partitioning and raised flooring in parallel with wrapping the building in glass,” Mr Goring says.

“It’s as collaborative as possible between different trades. We’ve been laying concrete while putting floors inside the building and it’s gone really well.”

Unusually for a site of this size, BAR is also employing four full-time logistics professionals to plan deliveries for all of the trades working together at the same time.

“Our biggest technical challenge has been around flexibility,” Mr Goring says.

“Because it started at such a pace, we had broadly mapped out that we needed office space, a boat shed and so on – but what we hadn’t done was fully designed it when we got planning consent.”

Giant Ker-plunk

The site itself has a lot of history and posed some unique challenges.

The team had to clear old transfer sheds from the 1930s, as well as a coal bunker that towered over the site.

When it came to installing foundations, they had to dodge the quay walls.

“It was a like a giant game of Ker-Plunk”, says Allied Developments project manager Richard Pelley.

The team installed 220 piles, with depths ranging from 17 to 25 m, using a mix of 450 to 600mm piles.

As well as this, the team dug up what they thought was an old World War II bomb, causing a short delay.

“It turned out to be an empty shell casing in the end, so it was a false alarm,” Mr Pelley says.


All of the steelwork is ASD Westok cellular beams, enabling the team to push services through wherever they need to.

“There are no ceilings – all the steelwork is exposed. It’s pretty sexy,” he says.

Also helping foster collaboration is the nature of the contract – with no provision for liquidated and ascertained damages.

“Effectively, contractors have come on board knowing that if they try their hardest, they’re not going to get nailed,” Mr Goring says. “There are no issues around liability, which has made a big difference on behaviours and attitudes.”

“You can only do projects like that if you all get on well together. We’ve had some terrific trade contractors and we’ve been very, very lucky with the weather this year.”

Above and below deck

The building’s layout is unusual due to its unique function and the nature of the site.

The ground floor is designed to take one, full-size 62-foot-long catamaran – the size of the boats that competed in the last race – and two 45-foot boats, and their wings.

Competing teams voted on 1 April this year to reduce the size of the boats used in the race to 45 feet in length, but construction plans for the size of the main room and its doors were obviously drawn up long before this.

“This basically fits all the kit we could ever need for the America’s Cup – prototypes, finished boats and so on,” Mr Goring says.

“Contractors have come on board knowing that if they try their hardest, they’re not going to get nailed”

Jonathan Goring, Ben Ainslie Racing

The shed is covered in fire-retardant paint, with Allied Developments project manager Richard Pelley describing it as “the most fire-retardant paint I’ve ever used on any project”.

Also on the ground floor are offices and a gymnasium, while the floor above is home to the design and commercial teams, with space for sponsors, customers and visitors to meet the team. Above that again are the visitors’ centre and the crew canteen.

The shape of the building itself is also technically challenging, Mr Goring says, as it’s shaped to fit the site and includes “quite a lot of curves”.

And on top of all this, alongside a corporate hospitality area on the roof, every available space will be used for solar panels.

Stern efforts on sustainability

The use of solar panels will contribute to BAR’s goal of using only renewable energy once operational.

Investment company Low Carbon is partnering with BAR to help achieve this goal, and will invest in, own and operate the solar panels.

The team are using highly efficient mono crystalline panels that will produce 270W.

In addition, BAR is committed to making the building achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating.

“There are some elements of BREEAM box-ticking that we didn’t think were as relevant as others, so we’ve tried to focus on the things that fit where we are,” Mr Goring says.

“We have the potential, in future, to sea-water cool the building. The building is entirely serviced for sea-water cooling – but we won’t do it to tick the box, we’ll do it if it works for us.”

The team has endeavoured to re-use materials where possible and has used ISO14001 for full traceability – but the number of local, SME contractors used as suppliers has meant that not all of them comply fully with ISO14001. To overcome this, though, the team has found ways to get them up to speed.

“Where there’s an issue around that we’ve found a lead contractor to effectively help them manage their process through 14001,” Mr Goring says. “The demolition contractor, for example – we effectively piggybacked Mackley’s 14001 [groundworks subcontractor] and used their process, even though they weren’t doing the demolition.”

BAR has also become the only sports team to achieve ISO20121 across all its operations – an international standard which specifies requirements for running sustainable events.

Ship shape

The building is nearing completion now, with the team on track to hand over on 20 May.

In fact, progress has been made so rapidly that the project has moved on significantly in the short time since Construction News visited site.

The base’s giant Union Flag doors have now been installed, framing the entrance to the boat shed.

“They’re the biggest fabric doors ever in the UK, so the braking and safety systems have been a bit more complex than some,” Mr Goring says. “They’ve had to do bespoke designs for it, but it’s been done brilliantly.”

The building also has a 25 m-high fin on the right-hand-side of the doors – and with nothing there just two weeks ago, subcontractor Prism installed glass on the entire fin in just two days.

This rapid pace has seen the building go up in less than a year, with collaboration across the supply chain between contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and the client.

The America’s Cup World Series, effectively the qualifying challenger series for the America’s Cup proper, begins in Italy in June, with the second round taking place in Portsmouth itself in July.

With BAR needing results to qualify, it is striking that in all conversations with Mr Goring and others around the base, everyone talks about when they win the America’s Cup, not if.

The team is clearly driven to achieve its goals – the first step of which is to build this home, enabling it to win the oldest trophy in international sport and bring it to a home in Britain for the first time.

And Mr Goring is keen to stress the quality of the work that’s being done, and, above all, the level of collaboration needed to build it so quickly.

“We’ve seen some real stellar efforts,” Mr Goring says. “I think it’s great to see our industry performing like this.”

Anchored in the community

The visitor centre will be home to the 1851 Trust, an organisation created by Ben Ainslie Racing which aims to “inspire and engage a new generation through sailing and the marine industry”.

Taking its name from the year of the inaugural America’s Cup race, it will provide education to young people, offering skills and qualifications and creating pathways into apprenticeships and skills-based training, with a particular focus on the STEM subjects.

“We want people up to the age of 25 to be able to experience, either through apprenticeship or training, engineering first hand,” Mr Goring says.

“Whenever we create an income stream – so for instance, the feed-in tariff from Low Carbon’s solar panels - that goes into the trust.”

This is part of BAR’s commitment to the local area.

“The idea is our whole building is open to the people of Portsmouth, for school visits and so on,” Mr Goring says.

“We’ve definitely got a responsibility beyond the site.”

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