BRITAIN will mount their first America's Cup challenge in 17 years, based on the south coast, after securing a multi-million pound sponsorship deal.

Three gold medals at the Sydney Olympics means British sailing is riding on the crest of a wave - but it appeared nobody would come forward to fund a 2003 America's Cup challenge, which will cost a minimum of £10million.

However, Peter Harrison, a telecommunication and internet tycoon, has decided to fund Britain's challenge under the banner of his Chernikeef Group.

Harrison is Britain's 102nd richest man with an estimated fortune of £309m.

Chernikeef sponsored Britain's Admiral's Cup challenge in 1999 and the recent National Championships, and Harrison's sporting interests include Chelsea Football Club, where he is a vice-president, and disabled sport.

However, the 2003 challenge will only be a building block for the 2007 races with Britain financially out-muscled by Italy, New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

Patrizio Bertelli, the driving force of Italian fashion house Prada, is believed to be spending £50m on Italy's campaign, while mobile phone billionaire Craig McCaw is also funding OneWorld's American campaign with millions.

OneWorld have already signed up British gold medallist Ben Ainslie from Lymington but other British Olympic medallists, including Hamble's Ian Walker, are expected to be part of Chernikeef's challenge.

Britain won three sailing golds at the Sydney Olympics but do not boast such a proud record when it comes to the sporting world's oldest international prize.

The competition began when the Cowes's Royal Yacht Squadron invited the New York Yacht Club to a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851.

Britain lost, and has never regained the trophy despite challenges over the years by a string of thrill-seeking tycoons such as Sir Thomas Lipton, Tommy Sopwith and Peter de Savary.