America's Cup

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What is the America’s Cup?

The America’s Cup is a well renowned yacht racing regatta between international yacht clubs that dates back to 1851. It is the oldest competition in professional team sport and widely regarded as sailing’s most prestigious competition.

The America’s Cup has been contested 36 times with the most successful nations being the United States with 30 wins, New Zealand with three wins, Switzerland with two wins, and Australia with one win.

The current holders are the Royal New Zealand Yacht Club syndicate Emirates Team New Zealand who pulled off back to back victories in 2017 and 2021.

The next edition of the America’s Cup will be held in Barcelona, Spain in 2024.

A summary of the history of America’s Cup

The America’s Cup is the sport of yacht racing’s oldest and most prestigious competition.

It dates back to 1851 – during the reign of Britain’s Queen Victoria – making the America’s Cup trophy the oldest in international professional world sport – predating golf’s Ryder Cup, the football World Cup, and even the modern Olympics.

The competition came about after a visiting American yacht called ‘America’ – owned by a syndicate led by John Cox Stevens – won an invitational race around Britain’s Isle of Wight against a fleet of 14 of the best British racing yachts of the time.

The esteemed British yacht club the Royal Yacht Squadron awarded the victorious syndicate of American owners – all members of the New York Yacht Club – a trophy called the 100 Pound Cup (also sometimes referred to as the 100 Guinea Cup).

Six years later in 1857 the America’s owners permanently donated the trophy to the New York Yacht Club on the provision that it be renamed the America’s Cup and be awarded to the winner of a new perpetual international competition between yacht clubs.

Under the rules stipulated by America’s owners – known as the Deed of Gift – any yacht club meeting a strict set of requirements could challenge the incumbent yacht club to a race for the trophy – with the winner taking over its stewardship.

The first challenge did not come until 1870 when British railway James Lloyd Ashbury entered his schooner Cambria in the New York Yacht Club’s Queen’s Cup race in New York city on August 8 against America and a fleet of 17 American schooners.

The race was won by the American yacht Magic owned by Franklin Osgood and in doing so completed the United States’ first defence of the America’s Cup.

In the 171 years since the yacht America won the 100 Pound Cup in 1851 35 more editions of the America’s Cup have been contested.

The United States dominated the competition until the 25th edition in 1983 when the American’s 132-year winning streak – the longest in sporting history – finally came to an end when the Royal Perth Yacht Club’s yacht Australia II (skippered by John Bertrand) defeated the USA’s Liberty (skippered by Denis in Newport, Rhode Island.

The most recent edition of the AC took place in 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand when the Royal New Zealand Yacht Club’s Emirates Team New Zealand syndicate defeated the Italian yacht club Circolo della Vela Sicilia’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

The 37th America’s Cup is scheduled to take place in September – October 2024 in Barcelona, Spain when Emirates Team New Zealand will try to retain the trophy for a record breaking third consecutive time against challengers from Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States.

How does the America’s Cup work?

Although early editions of the America’s Cup involved fleet racing the event is best known as a match racing competition where just two yachts race against each other one-on-one.

America’s Cup rating rules

The AC has adopted several different rating rules over the years to try to meet the challenge of fairly matching differently-sized yachts against each other.

New York Yacht Club Rule

The New York Yacht Club Rule was used from 1885 to 1887. It factored in waterline length and sail area and penalised yachts with waterlines over 85 feet (25.91 metres).

Seawanhaka Rule

The Seawanhaka Rule was in force from 1889 to 1903 and saw a steady increase in boat sizes. This trend culminated in the American yacht Reliance which was designed by Nathanael Herreshoff and launched in 1903 and at 201 feet (61.2 metres) overall was the largest America’s Cup yacht ever built.

Universal Rule

The Universal Rule – in force from 1914 through to 1937 – was created by Herreshoff and spawned the creation of the fast and powerful J Class yachts that many regard as the most beautiful of all America’s Cup designs.

Twelve Metre Rule

After a 19 year hiatus due to World War II the America’s Cup finally resumed again in 1956 With the J Class viewed as too expensive a design for post war times, the more cost effective Twelve Metre Rule was introduced and stayed in force until 1987.

Mercury Bay Yacht Club

In 1988, a surprise Deed of Gift challenge from New Zealand’s Mercury Bay Yacht Club based on a 90-foot (27.4 metres) monohull caught the Cup holders San Diego Yacht Club somewhat unawares. After a judge ruled the challenge was valid the Americans designed and built a state-of-the-art 60-foot (18-metre) wingsail catamaran with which they easily defended the Cup.

America's Cup
International America’s Cup Class

International America’s Cup Class

To avoid the mismatch scenario of 1988 the International America’s Cup Class (IACC) was introduced in 1992. This rule resulted in large (82-foot / 25 metre) technologically advanced boats with huge sail plans. The rule prevailed until 2007 and for many observers is synonymous with the start of the America’s Cup’s ‘modern era’.

Golden Gate Yacht Club

A second Deed of Gift match took place in 2010 when – after a protracted court case – the United States’ Golden Gate Yacht Club’s BMW Oracle Racing faced off against the Swiss Cup holders Alinghi in two giant multihulls in Valencia, Spain. After long delays for the right wind conditions the American’s wingsail trimaran proved too fast for the Swiss to take the series two races to zero.

AC72 and AC50 Catamaran Rules

2103 saw a new multihull rule introduced and the advent of the spectacular AC72 foiling catamarans. Although the rule was not originally intended to allow for flying boats it also did not prohibit them. When images emerged in the run up to the Cup of the New Zealand team successfully foiling the other teams had to scramble to respond.

The following edition of the America’s Cup in 2017 was raced in smaller but quicker five person foiling catamarans known as the AC50.

America's Cup
American Magic training on board the AC75 DEFIANT in Auckland, New Zealand, venue of the 36th America’s Cup.

AC75 Class

Introduced in 2021 the AC75 Class was a radical departure from anything the America’s Cup had seen before featuring 75-foot (23 metre) foiling monohull yachts. These super complex and difficult to sail yachts are the fastest craft in America’s Cup history and reach peak speeds of over 50 knots.

How many countries have won the America’s Cup?

The United States is the most successful country in the America’s Cup having won it 25 times in a row between 1851 and 1980 and then again five more times in 1987, 1988, 1992, 2010 and 2013.

New Zealand is the next most successful country with three wins in 2000, 2017 and 2021.

Switzerland has won the America’s Cup twice: in 2003 and 2007.

Australia won the America’s Cup in 1983 becoming the first country other than the United States to do so in 132 years.

List of countries that have won the America’s Cup:

United States 30
New Zealand 3
Switzerland 2
Australia 1

America's Cup
British syndicate Ineos Britannia competing in the Prada Cup Challenger Series at the 36th America’s Cup. | Image © COR36 | Studio Borlenghi

Has Great Britain ever won the America’s Cup?

Great Britain has never won the America’s Cup – despite challenging 22 times – in 1899, 1901, 1903, 1920, 1930, 1934, 1937, 1958, 1964, 1980, 1983, 1987, 2003, 2017, 2021.

Who is the most successful America’s Cup skipper?

American yachtsman Dennis Conner is arguably the best known skipper in the America’s Cup but he shares his three victory record with two other skippers – New Zealand yachtsman Russell Coutts and British skipper Charlie Barr.

Dennis Conner won the America’s Cup in 1980, 1987, and 1988.

But he is also renowned for in 1983 becoming the first American skipper to lose the Cup after 132 years of US domination when his stars and Stripes campaign was defeated by John Bertrand’s Australian crew on Australia II.

Russell Coutts won the America’s Cup as a skipper in 1995, 2000, and 2003 and was unbeaten in 14 consecutive races across those victories.

British skipper Charlie Barr won the America’s Cup three times – in 1899, 1901, and 1903 – sailing for American owners on each occasion and with a 9 to zero win loss record across the three editions.

Australian/American sailor Jimmy Spithill is a two-time America’s Cup winner, having in 2010 – at age 30 – become the then youngest ever winning America’s Cup skipper, before winning the next edition in 2013 when he staged a spectacular comeback in which he won eight consecutive races to defend the Cup nine points to eight.

New Zealand Olympic silver and gold medallist Peter Burling has won the America’s Cup twice. His first victory was in 2017, when at age 26 he became the youngest ever America’s Cup winning skipper. His second America’s Cup win was in 2021.

America's Cup
Emirates Team New Zealand winners of the 36th America’s Cup.

Who won the last America’s Cup?

Emirates Team New Zealand representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Club won the 37th America’s Cup which took place in Auckland, New Zealand in 2021.

The New Zealand syndicate defeated the Italian yacht club Circolo della Vela Sicilia’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

When is the next America’s Cup?

The next edition – America’s Cup 37 – is scheduled to take place in September and October of 2024 in the Spanish city of Barcelona.

More information on the America’s Cup:

America’s Cup website

Cup Insider website

America’s Cup story archive on Yacht Racing Life

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