For the past few years, the America's Cup has been better known for legal battles than as a sporting event, but that wasn't the first time in its history that it degenerated into a power game between very wealthy people. Since Larry Ellison's Oracle team won the cup, the defender and the challengers are in general agreement about the boats and the way the races will be run, but that doesn't mean there have been no battles. Ellison has ambitious plans to turn the America's Cup into a year-round commercial sport, and this has led to tough negotiations with San Francisco for the venue and with the TV companies for coverage.
The America's Cup is the oldest active trophy in international sport. What makes it different from other long-established yachting events? In essence, the Deed of Gift of July 1857, with which the Cup was entrusted to the NYYC as a perpetual trophy to promote friendly competition among nations. Let's take a look at the America's Cup history from the beginning.
In the Beginning...
In 1851 Commodore John Cox Stevens, a charter member of the young New York Yacht Club (NYYC), formed a six-person syndicate to build a yacht, intending to take her to England and make some money competing in yachting regattas and match races. (There was also a more formal agenda. This was the year of the Great Exhibition, and the syndicate wanted to showcase American shipbuilding and design). They commissioned pilot-boat designer George Steers to design a 101ft schooner, which was christened America and launched on 3 May 1851. While she was being built, the British Ambassador visited her and mentioned her to his friend Lord Wilton, the Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron. Lord Wilton wrote to the owners, offering the club's hospitality if they brought her to Cowes.
On arrival in England, Stevens placed advertisements challenging all comers to race for a wager of £10,000 ($2.8 million in today's money) but got no takers. Eventually, the engineer Robert Stephenson agreed to race against America with his 100-ton iron schooner Titania for a £100 wager. This race took place several days after the RYS race, and America beat her.
Anticipating the likely arrival of the American yacht, the Royal Yacht Squadron, which usually only held races for its own members, made their annual race around the Isle of Wight an open event. On 22 August 1851, America raced against 15 yachts of the Royal Yacht Squadron in the Club's annual 53-nautical-mile race around the Isle of Wight, for a 100 sovereign (£1 gold coin of the period) Gold Cup. America won, finishing 8 minutes ahead of the much smaller Aurora as the breeze died on the final eastward leg.
A finish in light airs against the tide stream is not uncommon in Round the Island races, giving an advantage to smaller boats that can hug the slacker water close to the shore, and they often win on handicap. However, Aurora was very nearly first boat home, after two of the fastest large yachts had collided on the south side of the Island. For some unexplained reason, she is the only competitor in that race whose name was not later engraved on the base of the Cup.
The Cup had been donated to the Royal Yacht Squadron by Lord Anglesey, who must have been fairly well off - £100 in 1848, when he bought it, is worth around $28,000 in today's money. Although it was made by the famous London Jeweller, Robert Garrard, this bottomless silver ewer was an off-the-shelf item. It's an ugly brute by 21st century aesthetic standards, and in its day it was an upmarket version of the pewter tankards so commonly offered as prizes today. Since it has no bottom, you can't even use it as a flower vase.
Since it was not a perpetual trophy, the America syndicate won the 100 Sovereign Cup outright, and some people suggested it be melted down and sold, to add to the $25,000 the syndicate received when they sold America 10 days after the race. That was $5,000 more than they had paid for her, after beating the builder down from $30,000 and including a 'no win, no pay' clause in case she had turned out to be a dud. The writer of the America's Cup history for the Royal Yacht Squadron suggests that melting the cup down would have saved much trouble and many fortunes, and I'm not sure whether he's joking or not.
The Deed of Gift – America's Cup becomes a perpetual challenge trophy
The Cup lay dormant until 1857, when the remaining members donated it to NYYC by the Deed of Gift of the America's Cup, to be held in trust as as a perpetual challenge trophy to promote friendly competition among nations. That's when the trouble started, and continued off and on in spite of the NYYC returning the cup twice to surviving syndicate member George L Schuyler with a request for changes to the Deed, triggered by the latest undesirable occurrence.
In 1881 it was a disastrously under-funded Canadian challenge that resulted in the ban on inland water yacht clubs as challengers and to insist that the boat sail to the contest 'on her own bottom'. In 1887, the challenging yacht turned out to be considerably longer than the challengers had specified in their challenge. The NYYC took the pragmatic approach of handicapping the challenger so that they retained the Cup, and had the Deed rewritten again. This third Deed tightened the rules for challenging, including stating explicitly that the challenger must not exceed the dimensions provided to the holder of the Cup. These new rules created an uproar among many British yachtsmen, who claimed that it was now impossible to challenge. However, six years later British railroad tycoon James Lord Ashbury decided to challenge, and did so twice without success.
After the Second World War the NYYC changed the Deed of Gift to bring the cost of challenging down to a level acceptable in those austere times. The waterline length was reduced to allow the use of 12-metre yachts instead of the now unaffordable J-Class, and the challenger was no longer required to sail across the ocean to get to the event. From then on, the America's Cup was a contest for day-boats, not ocean-going yachts.
Australia Wins – the cup leaves the USA at last
In 1983, Australian challenger Alan Bond won the America's Cup, opening up international competition and moving the contest overseas for the first time. The Deed of Gift was changed in 1985 to allow the competition to take place in the southern hemisphere summer.
In 1987, the Dennis Conner won back the cup for the San Diego Yacht Club. New Zealander Michael Fay didn't fancy going through the now well-established process of qualifying for selection by beating other potential challengers first. His lawyers reckoned that they could mount a direct challenge under the terms of the Deed of Gift, and built a Farr-designed boat to the maximum waterline length of 90 feet, which led to a court case. Judge Carmen Ciparick told them to work it out among themselves and come back if they still had any disagreement.
Clearly, Farr's light displacement maxi would beat a much smaller 12-metre, so Dennis Conner and the San Diego Yacht Club decided to pull their own surprise, defending in 1988 with a 60 foot wing-sailed catamaran, which won easily and led to further acrimonious sessions in court. Ciparick awarded the Cup to New Zealand, but her decision was overturned on appeal. Fay appealed again and lost.
After 1988, defender and challengers agreed on a new class measurement rule to replace the archaic 12-metre rule, calling it the International America's Cup Class. Dennis Conner's team retained the cup against an Italian challenge in 1992, but lost to Team New Zealand, skippered by Russell Coutts, in 1995.
In March 1997, while the Cup was in the care of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron's care, a man representing a Maori political group attacked it with a sledgehammer. It took Garrards three months to repair the cup, which they did for no charge.
In 2000, after the Italian Prada team from Yacht Club Punta Ala had beaten the American entrant to the Challenger Series, Team New Zealand won the Cup in the first competition not to feature a US boat.
In 2003, the base of the Cup was extended by 20 cm to provide space for the names of future winners, and Russell Coutts started sailing for other countries than New Zealand. As skipper of the Swiss entry Alinghi for the Société Nautique de Génève, he won the Cup.
In 2007, since Switzerland does not have a sea coast, SNG held the races in Valencia, Spain – the first time the Cup event had been held in Europe, and the first time a yacht club had held the race outside its own country. 11 clubs from 9 countries submitted formal challenges and Emirates Team New Zealand won the Louis Vuitton Cup for the right to challenge Alinghi, which successfully defended the America's Cup itself.
The Spanish Club Náutico Español de Vela was formed for the express purpose of challenging and retaining the competition in Valencia, but when SNG and CNEV published the protocol they had agreed for the challenge, that triggered the second big court battle in the life of the Cup. The Golden Gate Yacht Club asked for CNEV to be removed as being unqualified under the terms of the Deed of Gift, and for GGYC to be named the challenger. After a long, acrimonious battle, the New York Court of appeals decided that CNEV did not qualify and GGYC became the rightful challenger.
Since challenger and defender could not agree, the race between Société Nautique de Génève and Golden Gate Yacht Club clubs was sailed under the terms of the Deed of Gift, this time in 90 foot multihulls. The wing sail of the GGYC trimaran USA-17, sponsored by BMW-Oracle, proved decisive. She beat the soft-sailed Alinghi catamaran 2-0.
The Future of the Challenge - Can Larry Ellison create a new major TV sport?
Having brought the America's Cup back to the USA, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison launched into a gargantuan effort to turn the America's Cup into a major sports attraction. He and his team have sponsored significant advances in the real-time video enhancements known as 'augmented reality' that had helped TV viewers follow ballgames (and, recently, the In Port Races of the Volvo series and the Extreme 40 catamaran series), bought blocks of TV time and negotiated enhancements to a run-down part of the San Francisco waterfront. They led the development of a 45 foot wing-sailed precursor catamaran and an associated year-round series of regattas, as well as the 72 foot catamaran (AC72) to be used for the America's Cup itself, which not only sports a gigantic wing sail but also rides on foils. In an effort to constrain the cost of mounting an America's Cup challenge, these boats are strictly-controlled one-designs – but the reverse side of the coin is that the AC72, in particular, is a very advanced but hitherto untested concept.
The AC45s have turned out to be solid, reliable craft, but crews are still learning how to handle AC72s. The first races between them could prove interesting, but could also be short-lived. The Oracle team has already shown that the damage suffered as a result of a capsize cannot be repaired during a regatta.
Whoever wins the America's Cup in September 2013, there is not likely to be any going back. The Vendée Globe and Volvo ocean races are continuing to work hard to establish professional ocean racing as a spectator sport, and the Extreme 40 catamaran races wouldn't exist without TV coverage. The America's Cup race sponsors have the size of budget needed to build on this experience.
Undoubtedly, future winners and challengers will want to change the boats and the associated events for various reasons, but can you see them wanting to drop out of the race for a wider audience? After all, John Cox Stevens' main objective in building the schooner America was to parade US technology on England's doorstep during the Great Exhibition, for the publicity.
by Michael Kingdom-Hocking for YachtPals.com
AMERICA'S CUP CHALLENGERS AND DEFENDERS
|Rule||Year||Venue||Defending club||Defender||Challenging club||Challenger||Score|
|1851||Isle of Wight||Royal Yacht Squadron||8 cutters and 7 schooners, runner-up Aurora||New York Yacht Club||John Cox Stevens syndicate, America||0–1|
|1870||New York City||New York Yacht Club||17 schooners, winner Franklin Osgood's Magic||Royal Thames Yacht Club||James Lloyd Ashbury, Cambria||1–0|
|1871||New York City||New York Yacht Club||Franklin Osgood, Columbia (2–1) and
William Proctor Douglas, Sappho (2–0)
|Royal Harwich Yacht Club||James Lloyd Ashbury, Livonia||4–1|
|1876||New York City||New York Yacht Club||John Stiles Dickerson, Madeleine||Royal Canadian Yacht Club||Charles Gifford, Countess of Dufferin||2–0|
|1881||New York City||New York Yacht Club||Joseph Richard Busk, Mischief||Bay of Quinte Yacht Club||Alexander Cuthbert, Atalanta||2–0|
|1885||New York City||New York Yacht Club||John Malcolm Forbes syndicate, Puritan||Royal Yacht Squadron||Sir Richard Sutton, Genesta||2–0|
|1886||New York City||New York Yacht Club||Charles Jackson Paine, Mayflower||Royal Northern Yacht Club||Lt. & Mrs. William Henn, Galatea||2–0|
|1887||New York City||New York Yacht Club||Charles Jackson Paine, Volunteer||Royal Clyde Yacht Club||James Bell syndicate, Thistle||2–0|
|1893||New York City||New York Yacht Club||Charles Oliver Iselin syndicate, Vigilant||Royal Yacht Squadron||Earl of Dunraven, Valkyrie II||3–0|
|1895||New York City||New York Yacht Club||William K. Vanderbilt syndicate, Defender||Royal Yacht Squadron||Earl of Dunraven syndicate, Valkyrie III||3–0|
|1899||New York City||New York Yacht Club||J. Pierpont Morgan syndicate, Columbia||Royal Ulster Yacht Club||Sir Thomas Lipton, Shamrock||3–0|
|1901||New York City||New York Yacht Club||J. Pierpont Morgan syndicate, Columbia||Royal Ulster Yacht Club||Sir Thomas Lipton, Shamrock II||3–0|
|1903||New York City||New York Yacht Club||Cornelius Vanderbilt III syndicate, Reliance||Royal Ulster Yacht Club||Sir Thomas Lipton, Shamrock III||3–0|
|1920||New York City||New York Yacht Club||Henry Walters syndicate, Resolute||Royal Ulster Yacht Club||Sir Thomas Lipton, Shamrock IV||3–2|
|1930||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Harold S. Vanderbilt syndicate, Enterprise||Royal Ulster Yacht Club||Sir Thomas Lipton, Shamrock V||4–0|
|1934||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Harold S. Vanderbilt syndicate, Rainbow||Royal Yacht Squadron||Sir Thomas Sopwith, Endeavour||4–2|
|1937||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Harold S. Vanderbilt, Ranger||Royal Yacht Squadron||Sir Thomas Sopwith, Endeavour II||4–0|
|1958||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Henry Sears, Columbia||Royal Yacht Squadron||Hugh Goodson syndicate, Sceptre||4–0|
|1962||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Mercer, Walsh, Frese syndicate, Weatherly||Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron||Sir Frank Packer, Gretel||4–1|
|1964||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Eric Ridder syndicate, Constellation||Royal Thames Yacht Club||Anthony Boyden, Sovereign||4–0|
|1967||Newport||New York Yacht Club||William Justice Strawbridge syndicate, Intrepid||Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron||Emile Christenson, Dame Pattie||4–0|
|1970||Newport||New York Yacht Club||William Justice Strawbridge syndicate, Intrepid||Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron||Sir Frank Packer, Gretel II||4–1|
|1974||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Robert Willis McCullough syndicate, Courageous||Royal Perth Yacht Club||Alan Bond, Southern Cross||4–0|
|1977||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Ted Turner, Courageous||Sun City Yacht Club||Alan Bond, Australia||4–0|
|1980||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Freedom syndicate, Freedom||Royal Perth Yacht Club||Alan Bond, Australia||4–1|
|1983||Newport||New York Yacht Club||Freedom syndicate, Liberty||Royal Perth Yacht Club||Alan Bond, Australia II||3–4|
|1987||Fremantle||Royal Perth Yacht Club||Kevin Parry, Kookaburra III||San Diego Yacht Club||Sail America, Stars & Stripes 87||0–4|
|1988||San Diego||San Diego Yacht Club||Sail America, Stars & Stripes 88||Mercury Bay Boating Club||Sir Michael Fay, KZ-1||2–0|
|1992||San Diego||San Diego Yacht Club||Bill Koch, America||Compagnia Della Vela di Venezia||Raul Gardini, Il Moro di Venezia||4–1|
|1995||San Diego||San Diego Yacht Club||Sail America, Young America||Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron||Team New Zealand, NZL-32/Black Magic||0–5|
|2000||Auckland||Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron||Team New Zealand, NZL-60||Yacht Club Punta Ala||Luna Rossa, ITA-45||5–0|
|2003||Auckland||Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron||Team New Zealand, NZL 82||Société Nautique de Genève||Alinghi, SUI-64||0–5|
|2007||Valencia||Société Nautique de Genève||Alinghi, SUI-100||Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron||Team New Zealand, NZL-92||5–2|
|2010||Valencia||Société Nautique de Genève||Alinghi, Alinghi 5||Golden Gate Yacht Club||BMW Oracle Racing, USA-17||0–2|
|2013||San Francisco||Golden Gate Yacht Club||TBD||Royal Swedish Yacht Club||Artemis Racing|
CLUBS THAT HAVE WON THE AMERICA'S CUP
- United States New York Yacht Club: 25–1
- United States San Diego Yacht Club: 3–1
- New Zealand Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron: 2–2
- Australia Royal Perth Yacht Club: 1–3
- Switzerland Société Nautique de Genève: 2–1
- United States Golden Gate Yacht Club: 1–0
BOAT FOR THE 34th AMERICA'S CUP - AC72
AC72 Principal Dimension
- Hull Length 22 m (72.2 ft)
- Maximum Beam 14 m (45.9 ft)
- Mast Height 40 m (131.2 ft)
- Maximum Draft 4.40 m (14.4 ft)
- Displacement 5900 kg (13007.2 pd)
- Wing Area 260 sq m (2798.6 sq ft)
- Jib Area 80 sq m (861.1 sq ft)
- Gennaker Area 320 sq m (3444.5 sq ft)
Crew: 11 People