HAMPSHIRE sailor Ben Ainslie has capped a sensational sailing year by being named the British Yachtsman of the Year for an unprecedented sixth time.

The title, awarded by the Yachting Journalists’ Association in association with yacht insurers Pantaenius UK, follows on from a host of 2012 honours.

His successes peaked with winning his fourth Olympic gold medal at Weymouth and Portland in the London Olympics, becoming ISAF world sailing champion, and receiving a knighthood in recognition of his services to sailing in the New Year’s Honours.

Lymington-based Ainslie flew to San Francisco hours before the announcement to join the Oracle Team USA, the defender of the America’s Cup. He is also preparing for the next America’s Cup World Series regatta at Naples in April with his J P Morgan/Ben Ainslie Racing Team. YJA chairman Bob Fisher and Lady Pippa Blake, who was to present the award, caught up with him just before leaving, at the Royal Lymington Yacht Club.

However, he joined the awards luncheon and ceremony at Trinity House in London today via a live television link from the team’s base in California.

He told Fisher that 2012 had been quite a year with many highlights, but said the Olympic regatta had been the toughest.

“I thought I might have left it too late,” he admitted, “but it was all down to a match race with Jonas [Hogh-Christensen] in the medal race, and I seem to enjoy those!”

During his remarkable career, Ainslie has claimed four Olympic gold medals and one silver medal, nine European titles and ten world championships going back to 1993. Few sportsmen in any discipline have stayed at the forefront of their careers for such a sustained period.

Ainslie also won the Finn Gold Cup in 2012 for a record sixth year, and this time on his home waters of Falmouth. He concluded his year by being named ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year.

Ainslie has also been voted YJA Yachtsman of Year on five previous occasions, either as an individual or as part of an Olympic team.

Members of the Yachting Journalists’ Association voted him as the yachtsman most deserving the title in the closest of ballots, narrowly ahead of finalists - Paralympic gold medallist Helena Lucas, a member of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club, and the four times match racing world champion Ian Williams, also from Lymington.

At Trinity House, the YJA also made a Special Award to David Howlett, the Olympic team coach, for his outstanding dedication to improving the performance of many of Britain’s top sailors, including Ainslie, for many years.