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12 Metre History

The 12 Metre Class – America’s Cup contenders 1958-1987

In 1958, after a twenty-one year halt of America’s Cup competition, racing continued with a new class of racers, the 12 Metre Class. These 60 to 70 foot sloops were smaller in size, easier to crew, and more manageable on a race course than the previous 135 foot America’s Cup racing class, J boats. However, the 12 Metre class, like the J boats, were designed based on a formula. This meant that 12 Metre Class yachts could vary in sail area, length, and other speed production aspects. The following is the mathematical formula by which all 12 Metre yachts are measured.



This formula inputs speed producing factors (length (L), sail area (Sa), freeboard (F), and a girth measurement (2D)) through a simple mathematical formula. In order for a yacht to be a Twelve Metre the results of this formula must not exceed 12 Metres. To limit the likelihood that one 12 Metre design would be vastly superior than another and promote fair and competitive racing there are other restrictions on design measurements of 12 Metre racing yachts. Maximum and minimum parameters on mast height, draft, beam and headsail height are applied to 12 Metre racing yachts to ensure that there is not too much diversity among boats.

Twelve Metre yachts are quite possibly the most fascinating racing sailboats ever built. They have a beauty and size that, along with their America’s Cup history, has attracted and intrigued yachtsmen since their debut. The horsepower used to drive these 65,000 pound racing beauties to speeds as high as twelve knots lies in their massive sail area. Their mainsails are usually about 1200 square feet in size and their jibs, which can only have a height that is seventy-five percent of the mast in height, range from 500 square feet to over 1200 square feet in size. Twelve Metre yachts were not raced in the America’s Cup until 1958. However, the six, eight, and twelve metre rules were developed over five decades earlier. In 1906 William Froude and the Royal Yachting Association in England helped develop the International Rules for metre class boats. Before their America’s Cup debut metre boats had considerable racing success and were used in the 1908, 1912, and 1920 Olympic games.


The 12 Metre Class was taken up by American yachtsmen in 1928 when several New York Yacht Club members ordered six virtually identical 12 Metre boats from renowned boat designer Starling Burgess. In 1939 American 12 Metre racing was taken to a new level when Harold Vanderbilt, an accomplished America’s Cup sailor, J boat skipper, and winner of the 1930, 1934, and 1937 America’s Cup, took his new 12 Metre, Vim (12 Metre US-15) to England to race against the prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron. While in England, Vim won 21 of her 27 races against the British 12 Metres, leaving the Royal Yacht Squadron in awe. Vim continued to be the standard by which all other 12 Metre yachts were gauged for the next two decades until 1958 when Columbia (12 Metre US-16) defeated her by only 12 seconds in the tie breaking race of the America’s Cup defense trials. The 12 Metre Class would remain the design standard for America’s Cup racing yachts until being retired after the 1987 America’s Cup.


America’s Cup 12 Metres were designed to do one thing – win America’s Cup races off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island. Therefore, every aspect of their design reflects this. When the twelves campaigned in the America’s Cup there was no room for the unneeded weight of an engine, anything below decks, or even a toilet. Set up for optimal sail performance, deck layouts of the America’s Cup twelves also reflect their need for speed. The sails are the engines of the boat during racing and therefore, in order to win, it was imperative that they were trimmed correctly and quickly. Even the America’s Cup twelve metre crew were trained to be as efficient as possible. They had intensive training and practice so that they would be flawless at sail handling and the best yacht racers in the world when it was their turn to race in the famous America’s Cup.

Today the America’s Cup 12 Metre boats remain a premier racing class and a prestigious part of America’s Cup history. After their America’s Cup adventures many twelves went on to have successful careers in ocean racing. Newport, Rhode Island, where over 50 years of America’s Cup racing took place and all but two America’s Cup 12 Metre races took place, has rightfully become the home of the largest fleet of 12 Metre yachts in the world. Over a dozen America’s Cup 12 Metres are home ported in Newport, RI and are available for charter through 12 Meter Charters. These sleek racing beauties were designed to sail off the coast of Newport, RI – come sail with us on a piece of America’s Cup racing history! For more information about chartering our America’s Cup 12 Meters please contact our office at 401-851-1216¬†or email us sail@12metercharters.com

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