America's Cup

The America's Cup is the most famous trophy in the sport of yachting, and the oldest active trophy in sports.

The cup, a silver ewer, is awarded to the winner of a match of up to nine races between two yachts from different countries, one representing the yacht club which holds the Cup and the other boat fielded by a club challenging for the trophy.

The race originated on August 22, 1851 when the 30.86m schooner-yacht America (owned by a syndicate representing the New York Yacht Club raced 15 yachts representing the Royal Yacht Squadron around the Isle of Wight. America won by 20 minutes.

Stung by this blow to contemporary perception of invincible British sea power, a succession of British syndicates attempted to win back the cup. The New York Yacht Club remained unbeaten for 25 challenges over 132 years, the longest winning streak in the history of sport. The matches were held in the vicinity of New York harbour until 1930, then sailed off Newport, Rhode Island for the rest of the NYYC's reign.

One of the most famous and determined challengers was Irish tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton, who mounted five challenges between 1899 and 1930, all in yachts named Shamrock. One of Lipton's motivations for making so many challenges was the publicity that the racing generated for his team, though his original entry was at the personal request of the Prince of Wales in hopes of repairing trans-Atlantic ill-will generated by a contentious earlier challenger. Lipton was preparing for his sixth challenge when he died in 1931. The yachts from this era were huge by today's standards, with few restrictions.

After the Second World War, the 12-metre class of yachts were introduced. The NYYC's unbeaten streak continued in eight more defences, running from 1958 to 1980. Alan Bond, a flamboyant and at times dishonest Australian businessman made three challenges for the cup between 1974 and 1980. He returned in 1983 with a golden spanner which he claimed would be used to unbolt the cup from its plinth, so he could take it home.

In 1983 there were six foreign challenging syndicates for the cup. In order to establish who would be the actual "challenger", a series of elimination races were held, the prize for which was the Louis Vuitton Cup. In the challenger series, the Bond syndicate won easily. Then with the yacht Australia II representing the Perth Yacht Club, designed by Ben Lexcen and skippered by John Bertrand, the Australian syndicate won the America's Cup in a seven-race match 4-3 to break the 132-year winning streak.

Beaten skipper Dennis Conner won the cup back four years later, with the yacht Stars and Stripes representing the San Diego Yacht Club, but had to fend off an unprecedented 13 challenger syndicates to do it. Bond's syndicate lost the Defender series and did not race in the final.

Technology was now playing an increasing role in the yacht design. The 1983 winner, Australia II, had sported an innovative but controversial "winged" keel, and the New Zealand boat Conner had beaten in the Louis Vuitton final in Fremantle was the first 12-metre to have a fibreglass hull construction rather than aluminium. The New Zealand syndicate had to fight off legal challenges from Conner's team who were demanding that 'core samples' be taken from the plastic hull (requiring the drilling of holes in the yacht hull) to prove that it met class specifications.

Then in 1988 a New Zealand syndicate, led by merchant banker Michael Fay, lodged a surprise "big boat" challenge that returned to the original rules of the cup trust deed. Not wanting to be beaten, Conner's syndicate produced a new Stars and Stripes, a catamaran, which totally outclassed the challenger. The conflict descended into a bitter court room battle that ultimately confirmed that San Diego Yacht Club held the cup.

In the wake of the 1988 challenge, the International America's Cup Class (IACC) of yachts was introduced. These replaced the 12-metre class that had been used since 1958. First raced in 1992, the IACC yachts are the ones used today.

  • In 1992, America3, raced by billionaire Bill Koch and sailing legend Harry "Buddy" Melges, defeated the Italian challenger Il Moro, owned by billionaire Raul Gardini's Il Moro di Venezia.

  • In 1995, Michael Fay and his Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron syndicate Team New Zealand, skippered by Russell Coutts, first won the challenger series in NZL 32, dubbed Black Magic because of its black hull and uncanny speed, then defeated Young America, again with Dennis Conner at the helm, 5-0, to win the cup.

  • In March 1997, Benjamin Piri Nathan entered the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's clubrooms and attacked the America's Cup with a sledge-hammer. Nathan, a recidivist petty criminal, claimed the attack was politically motivated, though that did not stop him going to jail. The damage caused was so severe that it was feared that the cup was irreparable. London's Garrards silversmiths, who had originally manufactured the cup in 1848, painstakingly repaired the trophy to its original condition over three months, free of charge, simply because it was the America's Cup.

  • At Auckland in 1999-2000, Team New Zealand, led by Peter Blake, and again skippered by Russell Coutts, defeated Challenger Italy’s Prada Challenge from the Yacht Club Punta Ala. The Italians had previously beaten the America One syndicate from the St Francis Yacht Club in the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals.

The 2002-2003 Louis Vuitton Cup, held off Auckland, New Zealand saw nine teams from six countries staging 120 races over five months to select a challenger for the America's Cup.

  • On January 19, 2003 the Swiss challenger Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi, skippered by Russell Coutts, won the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals by defeating the American challenger, Larry Ellison’s Oracle BMW, 4 - 1. Interestingly, Switzerland is a landlocked country.

  • On February 15, 2003, racing for the cup itself began. In a stiff breeze, Alinghi won the first race easily after New Zealand withdrew due to multiple gear failures in the rigging and the low cockpit unexpectedly taking onboard large quantities of water. Race 2, on February 16, 2003, was won by Alinghi by a margin of only seven seconds. It was one of the closest, most exciting races seen for years, with the lead changing several times and a duel of 33 tacking manoeuvres on the fifth leg. Then on February 18, in Race 3, Alinghi won the critical start, after receiving last minute advice about a wind shift, and led throughout the race, winning with a 23 second margin. After nine days without being able to race, first due to a lack of wind, then with high winds and rough seas making it too dangerous to race, February 28, originally a planned lay-day, was chosen as a race day. Race 4 was again sailed in strong winds and rough seas and New Zealand's difficulties continued, when her mast snapped on the third leg. The next day, March 1, 2003, was again a frustratingly calm day, with racing called off after the yachts had again spent over two hours waiting for a start in the light air. Alinghi skipper Russell Coutts was unable to celebrate his 41st birthday with a cup win, but was in a commanding position in the series to do so on March 2. Race 5 started on time in a good breeze. Alinghi again won the start and kept ahead. On the third leg, New Zealand broke a spinnaker pole during a manoeuvre. Although it was put overboard and replaced with a spare pole, New Zealand was unable to recover, losing the race and the cup.

The win by Alinghi meant Coutts, who had previously sailed for New Zealand, had won every one of the last 14 America's Cup races he had competed in as skipper, the most by any America's Cup skipper. This meant he had won an America's Cup regatta twice as challenger as well as having been a successful defender. Coutts was not the only New Zealander to be sailing for foreign syndicates in the 2002-2003 regatta. Alinghi alone had four New Zealanders as crew. Chris Dickson, skipper of Oracle BMW, also a New Zealander, had been involved in a previous New Zealand challenge for the America's Cup. Whatever the outcome of both the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America's Cup, it was certain that the winning skipper would be a New Zealander from the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup final.

The Alinghi team will defend the America's Cup in 2007, according to announcements made following their victory. It was announced on November 27, 2003 that the venue would be Valencia, Spain.

(Much more to cover yet)

  • Rules
  • Trust Deed
  • TV Coverage
  • One World's member's possession of Team New Zealand design secrets
  • Bias favouring the Defender.
  • Lifting the Skirts ceremony
  • Controversy in the 2003 America's Cup, with professionally written death threats to defecting sailors, terrorist cyanide threats, Team NZ hiring private investigators to investigate whether Alinghi was using drugs, Alinghi syndicate being fined $10,000 by police for invading practice zones and intimidating/physically ramming Team NZ boats while TNZ was practicing

America's Cup Winners and Challengers

  • 2003: Alinghi, Switzerland, def. Team New Zealand, New Zealand, 5-0 at Auckland, New Zealand
  • 2000: New Zealand, New Zealand def. Prada, Italy, 5-0 at Auckland, New Zealand
  • 1995: Black Magic, New Zealand def. Young America, United States, 5-0 at San Diego.
  • 1992: America3, United States def. Il Moro di Venezia, Italy 4-1 at San Diego.
  • 1988: Stars & Stripes, United States def. KZ1, New Zealand 2-0 at San Diego, California.
  • 1987: Stars & Stripes, United States def. Kookaburra III, Australia 4-0 at Fremantle, Australia.
  • 1983: Australia II, Australia def. Liberty, United States 4-3 at Newport.
  • 1980: Freedom, United States def. Australia, Australia 4-1 at Newport.
  • 1977: Courageous, United States def. Australia, Australia 4-0 at Newport.
  • 1974: Courageous, United States, def. Southern Cross, Australia 4-0 at Newport.
  • 1970: Intrepid, United States def. Gretel II, Australia 4-1 at Newport.
  • 1964: Constellation, United States def. Sovereign, Britain, 4-0 at Newport.
  • 1962: Weatherly, United States def. Gretel, Australia 4-1 at Newport.
  • 1958: Columbia, United States def. Sceptre, Britain, 3-1 at Newport.
  • 1937: Ranger, United States def. Endeavour II, Britain 4-0 at Newport.
  • 1934: Rainbow, United States def. Endeavour, Britain 4-2 at Newport.
  • 1930: Enterprise, United States def. Shamrock V, Ireland 4-0 at Newport.
  • 1920: Resolute, United States def. Shamrock IV, Ireland 3-2 at Newport.
  • 1903: Reliance, United States def. Shamrock III, Ireland 3-0 at Newport.
  • 1901: Columbia, United States def. Shamrock II, Ireland 3-0 at Newport.
  • 1899: Columbia, United States def. Shamrock, Ireland 3-0 at Newport.
  • 1895: Defender, United States def. Valkyrie III, Britain 3-0 at Newport.
  • 1893: Vigilant, United States def. Valkyrie II, Britain 3-0 at Newport.
  • 1887: Volunteer, United States def. Thistle, Scotland 2-0 at Newport.
  • 1886: Mayflower, United States def. Galatea, Britain 2-0 at Newport.
  • 1885: Puritan, United States def. Genesta, Britain 2-0 at Newport.
  • 1881: Mischief, United States def. Atalanta, Canada 4-1 at Newport.
  • 1876: Madeline, United States def. def. Countess of Dufferin, Canada 2-0 at Newport.
  • 1871: Columbia, United States def. Livonia, England 4-1 at Newport.
  • 1870: Magic, United States def. Cambria, England 1-0 at Newport, Rhode Island.
  • 1851: America, United States def. Aurora, England (and a fleet of 13 yachts) 1-0 at Cowes, Isle of Wight.

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