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History of the America’s Cup Races

The America’s Cup – the most famous sailboat race!


America’s Race:
Competition for the America’s Cup, the oldest and one of the most prestigious sporting trophies in the world, began in England in 1851. The newly founded New York Yacht Club was challenged by the Royal Yacht Squadron, then the most prestigious yacht club in the world, to take part in The Solent Races, sailing races that took place on the body of water between the Isle of Wight and Great Britain. Answering this challenge, the New York Yacht Club assembled a team to cross the Atlantic and race with their contender, the yacht America. The schooner America was designed and built by George Steers in 1850 at the urging of the New York Yacht Club to build a fast sailboat.

Of all the races held on The Solent, the Royal Yacht Squadron decided that America was only eligible for the “All Nations Race”, a 74 mile race around the Isle of Wight starting and ending in Cowes. The prize for the winner of this race was the 100 Guineas Cup, an award commemorating Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year.

When the starting gun was fired at ten in the morning on August 22, 1851, the America was the last over the starting line. However, in the end the speedy America stunned the British fleet and crossed the finish line 19 minutes ahead of all 15 of her British competitors thus winning the 100 Guineas Cup. The schooner America brought its prize across the Atlantic, and the New York Yacht Club renamed it “The America’s Cup” after the winning boat.

The America’s Cup in Newport, Rhode Island:
In 1930, J boats raced in the first America’s Cup races that were held in Newport, RI. During this era the races were held at the mouth of Narragansett Bay off Breton Reef in the Atlantic Ocean. From 1930 to 1937, the America’s Cup the course was 30 miles long. In 1958, when the era of the 12 Meters began the course was shortened to just over 24 miles. For over 50 years Newport proved to be a perfect venue for the America’s Cup because of its light and predictable winds and small volume of commercial traffic.

The America’s Cup Deed of Gift:
On July 8, 1857, the members of the original America race syndicate, the first team to win the America’s Cup, wrote a letter, known as The Deed of Gift, to the secretary of the New York Yacht Club. This letter was written to formalize the rules of future America’s Cup racing. Originally it stated that the America’s Cup would be held as a permanent challenge trophy that would be open to competition from any foreign yacht club. It also stated that the races would be held on the waters of the yacht club in possession of the America’s Cup and all competitors had to sail to the race destination on their own bottoms. In other words, the boats could not be disassembled and shipped to the spot where the America’s Cup races were to occur.

Subsequent changes were made to the Deed of Gift changing the racing rules of the America’s Cup. Because of the original rule that stated that all competitors had to sail to the race destination on their own bottoms, America’s Cup racing boats had to be large vessels that were capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. It took massive amounts of money to maintain and crew the large cutters of the 1880’s-1920’s and the J Class boats of the 1930’s. After World War II, the vast fortunes needed to finance these huge boats had largely vanished on both sides of the Atlantic. Both the British and the Americans were looking to choose an alternative to the large expensive pre-war yachts of previous America’s Cup races. In 1956 the New York Yacht Club, trustee of the America’s Cup, petitioned the Court of New York State to modify the Deed of Gift. In doing so, they cancelled the clause that obligated America’s Cup challengers to cross the ocean in the boat they intended to race. Enter the era of the 12 Metre Class, smaller, more manageable racers, in America’s Cup racing.

The 12 Meters:
In 1958, after a twenty-one year halt of America’s Cup competition, racing continued with a new class of racers, 12 Meters. During this era of the America’s Cup, American syndicates continued to win the America’s Cup with the wooden 12 Meters, Columbia, Weatherly, Constellation and Intrepid twice. In 1974, aluminum 12 Meters began racing in the America’s Cup and the American team subsequently won the America’s Cup with Courageous twice and Freedom.

The End of the American Streak:
During the 19th and 20th centuries American yachts and sailors dominated and successfully defended the America’s Cup 24 times and created what is still today the longest winning streak in the history of organized sports. However, on the waters off Newport, Rhode Island in 1983, the Royal Perth Yacht Club’s challenger, Australia II (12 Meter KA-6), devastated the New York Yacht Club’s defender Liberty (12 Meter US-40), skippered by Dennis Conner, by winning the America’s Cup and ending the New York Yacht Club’s 132 year winning streak.

Although this defeat was devastating to the United States and the New York Yacht Club it would not be the last time that Dennis Conner would race in the America’s Cup. Four years later in 1987, the world saw the largest group of 12 Meters in the history of the America’s Cup. Over twenty-five of the multimillion dollar 12 Meter racing machines were designed and built to compete in the America’s Cup trials. Conner, then already a two time winner of the America’s Cup but more famous for being the only American sailor to ever lose the America’s Cup, staged a remarkable comeback winning the America’s Cup under the San Diego Yacht Club with his Stars & Stripes ‘87 (12 Meter US 55). Conner demolished the Australian defender Kookaburra III (12 Meter KA-15), winning the America’s Cup finals seven race series 4-0 and, therefore, reproving his racing capabilities to the world. This marked the last America’s Cup in which the graceful twelve meter yachts would sail.


The Infamous Catamaran Defense:
The San Diego Yacht Club defended the America’s Cup three times after Conner’s 1987 win before losing it the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in 1995. In 1988, one of the most famous America’s Cup competitions took place off the waters of San Diego, California. An America’s Cup that would, unfortunately, begin and end in the court room instead of on the race course. Striking back to the New Zealand challenger, the 133 foot New Zealand (KZ-1), Conner and the American team designed a catamaran, Stars & Stripes ’88 (USA-1), to defend the 1988 America’s Cup. Stars & Stripes ’88 swept the three race series but the race committee decided that a catamaran was not eligible to race in the America’s Cup. Conner and the Americans protested and the first America’s Cup defense by the San Diego Yacht Club, was finally settled in the courtroom long after racing had ended, declaring the catamaran, Stars & Stripes ’88, the winner of the 1988 America’s Cup but subsequently tarnishing the image of the America’s Cup.

America’s Cup Racing Today:
In 1992, after the end of the 12 Meter era and the debacle of the 1988 America’s Cup, the Deed of Gift was again modified and the International America’s Cup Class of yachts, IACC boats, was introduced as the new America’s Cup racers. The IACC boats are longer, lighter and have about twice as much sail area than the previous America’s Cup 12 Meter racers. This is the class of boats that currently races in the America’s Cup.

Today the America’s Cup remains the premier challenge of yachtsmen. The best of the best in sailing from around the world have battled to gain what has become the greatest prize in yachting. While the America’s Cup prize, a solid silver trophy standing twenty-seven inches tall, is magnificent in its own right, there is no cash prize awarded to the winner of the America’s Cup. However, racing teams spend tens of millions of dollars to either defend or challenge for the America’s Cup and prove their technological supremacy in yacht racing. The only prize for the multi-million dollar syndicate that wins the America’s Cup is fame and, of course, the glory of bringing the America’s Cup and the next races to their country and their names engraved on the perpetual Auld Mug!

In the winter of 2002-2003, in New Zealand, the 31st America’s Cup was held. After their second America’s Cup victory in 2000, New Zealand become the second country after the United States to successfully defend the America’s Cup. In unpredictable, America’s Cup sailing fashion the Swiss powerhouse, Team Alinghi, lead by New Zealander Russell Coutts upset the New Zealand favorites by sweeping the nine race series, 5-0, and winning the 2003 America’s Cup.

The 32nd America’s Cup was hosted by Switzerland’s team Alinghi in Valencia, Spain. On July 3, 2007 team Alinghi defeated Emirates Team New Zealand by one second in the thrilling seventh race of the America’s Cup series. This race sealed Team Alinghi’s, 5-2 victory over New Zealand, making them successful defenders of the 32nd America’s Cup.

Just two days after their America’s Cup victory Team Alinghi, began planning the next edition of the Auld Mug. They immediately accepted a challenge from Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV) a Spanish challenger formed expressly for the purpose of keeping the regatta in Valencia. Larry Ellison and Team BMW/Oracle of The Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) filed its own challenge for the Cup and then filed a court case asking that CNEV be removed as Challenger of Record as being unqualified under the Deed of Gift. GGYC also asked that it be named as the rightful Challenger of Record, being the first club to file a conforming challenge. The litigation leading up to the match included which club would be the challenger, the dates and venue for the regattas, certain rules governing the regattas (in particular the measurement rules), and the construction of the boats. There followed a long legal battle with the New York Court of Appeals finally deciding on April 2, 2009, that CNEV did not qualify as a valid challenger, and that the GGYC was thus the rightful Challenger of Record.

The 33rd America’s Cup between Société Nautique de Genève defending with Team Alinghi against Golden Gate Yacht Club, began on February 6, 2010. Since the two parties were unable to agree otherwise, the match took place as a one-on-one Deed of Gift match in gigantic, specialized multi-hull racing yachts with no other clubs or teams participating. The Golden Gate Yacht Club won the match 2-0 as their yacht USA 17 powered by a rigid wing-sail proved to be significantly faster than Société Nautique de Genève’s yacht Alinghi 5. The American team, founded ten years ago by software mogul, Larry Ellison, achieved its ultimate goal when they powered across the finish line of Race 2 with a margin of 5 minutes and 26 seconds to defeat the Swiss Defender’s Alinghi 2-0.

BMW ORACLE Racing become the first American team to win the America’s Cup since 1992 when America3 defeated Il Moro de Venezia off San Diego. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Yacht Club become the 28th American defender of the America’s Cup. Russell Coutts, CEO of BMW ORACLE Racing, has now won the America’s Cup four times, twice with his native New Zealand, once at the helm of the Swiss Alinghi team and now masterminding the success of Ellison’s American team.

The 34th America’s Cup between the defending ORACLE TEAM USA, representing the Golden Gate Yacht Club, and Emirates Team New Zealand, representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, began on September 7, 2013 in San Francisco, California. This America’s Cup was raced aboard AC72’s, 86 foot catamarans, with a wing sail. The finals were in a format where the first team to nine points would win. Oracle Team USA began the series by being penalized its first two victories by the International Jury. The jury found the team guilty of cheating in the 2012 America’s Cup World Series when they placed bags of lead pellets in their 45-foot catamarans to add additional weight outside of allowed areas.

The 34th America’s Cup was the longest ever Cup series by both number of days and races. It was also the first since the 25th America’s Cup in 1983 (the last America’s Cup to be held in Newport, Rhode Island) to feature a winner-take-all final race. In the 19th and final race, Oracle Team USA defended the 34rd America’s Cup by a score of 9 to 8. Oracle had to win the last eight races and come from behind to, once again, win the oldest trophy in international sport, making it the most dramatic comeback in America’s Cup history!

In 2017, the 35th America’s Cup took place on the Great Sound in Bermuda.  Oracle Team USA, represented by the Golden Gate Yacht Club, was to defend the cup against the challenger, Emirates Team New Zealand which was represented by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. With the incredible lead of 7 to 1, Emirates Team New Zealand became the winner and current defender of the America’s Cup.

For all the latest information on the America’s Cup visit the official America’s Cup website – www.americascup.com

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