The America’s Cup

The America’s Cup is happening now. It is the 30th challenge for the Auld Mug in it’s unique history. New Zealand are the current holders, and are therefore the hosts this year. They also have the luxury of not having to race until the final, thus they can observe other team’s tactics without having to reveal their own. There is a Challengers playoff, where everybody else competes for the privilege of sailing against New Zealand in the Cup itself.

When I arrived, all challengers had been eliminated except “America One” (one of five original American syndicates) and “Prada”, the Italian entry. The race is three times around bouys 3 miles apart, directly up and down wind. One race is held every day, first to five wins. They were 3-3 when I arrived, then 4-3 to “America One”. I took a trip on “Pride of Auckland”, a 100ft sailing catamaran, to the races out in the bay to watch. Saturday was a close race, where the Italians forced the Americans to make a tactical error where they had to take a penalty. A penalty must be taken sometime before the end of the race, and the boat must make a 360 degree turn. “America One” trailed, only just, the whole race, and took their penalty just before the finish. 4-4. Sunday, “Prada” led from the start, and set up the first America’s Cup ever without an American team competing. You can be sure they will be back next year.

The history of the cup is interesting. it is the oldest trophy in the world, starting its life as the “100 guinea trophy”, a gift of the Marquess of Anglesey to the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes. It was a one-time competition for the 1851 Great Exhibition, Britain’s huge celebration at the height of her colonial power. The newly formed New York Yacht Club commissioned an entry, the “America”, sailed it across the Atlantic, and won the race around the Isle of Wight. The owners returned to New York, and six years later presented the Trophy, renamed “The America’s Cup”, as a perpetual trophy for competion by yacht clubs of foreign countries.

It was challenged in 1870 (GB), 1871 (GB), 1876 (CAN), 1881 (CAN), 1885 (GB), 1886 (GB), 1887 (GB), 1893 (GB), 1896 (GB), 1899 (Northern Ireland), 1901 (NI), 1903 (NI), 1920 (NI), 1930 (NI), 1934 (GB), 1937 (GB), 1958 (GB), 1962 (AU), 1964 (GB), 1967 (AU), 1970 (AU), 1974 (AU), 1980 (AU). In 1983 Australia won the cup, the first time the USA had lost. In 1987 USA won it back, and held it, controversially, in 1988, against New Zealand. In 1992 the USA defeated Italy, and in 1995 New Zealand beat the USA. In 2000, Auckland, the “City Of Sails”, plays host, and Italy are the challengers.

There is a colorful cast of characters in the history of the Cup, including the Northern Ireland challenger at the turn of the century, Sir Thomas Lipton, the Australian millionaire Alan Bond who challenged from 1974 to today, the American Dennis Connor, skippering the 1980 boat and a part of every challenge since.

Cheers, Andy!