Sailing’s Biggest Competition – America’s Cup
“Your Majesty, there is no second,” was the response to Queen Victoria’s question as she watched an American schooner sail past the British Royal Yacht and win the 100 Pound Cup at the Great Exhibition. It was a beautiful day for the New York Yacht Club, as they celebrated this joyous victory that put America on the map as a maritime contender. The Yacht Club brought the trophy to the states and donated it as a “deed of gift” to establish a continuous competition between countries. The trophy was retitled America’s Cup after the name of the original schooner that won in 1851. Although not named after the country, America has certainly dominated this renowned sailing competition. It took over 130 years before the trophy, which remains touch to win, was first taken away from the United States.
Unlike other sporting competitions, America’s Cup is not a regularly scheduled race. The winner of the cup (defender) must be challenged by another country’s qualifying vessel (challenger). It was almost 20 years before an Englishman, names James Ashbury, challenged the Americans after the original race and lost. Businessman Sir Thomas Lipton made five attempts during 1899-1930 to capture the cup, but always went home empty-handed. However, during this time (also known as the Lipton era) this endearing underdog introduced commercial sponsorship to the sport and his business prospered financially from it. World War II put the race on hold until 1958, when it commenced again. In 1970, there were several challengers, so a contest was staged to narrow down the competition and decide who would face off against the Americans. These “challenging series” became known as the Louis Vuitton Cup after the Frenchman got involved in 1983. The name still remains and the winning team (challenger) then goes on to compete against the defender of America’s Cup. It was that same year (1983), when the Americans lost the cup to the Aussies. It was huge upset for the United States as they had been the sole winner of the cup up until that time. However, the Americans, now represented by the San Diego Yacht Club, fought back in 1987 and reclaimed the prestigious trophy. The following year, the race was decided by the courts and America came out the winner against New Zealand. Since two different boats were used in the race, this caused a rule change. All future races were required to have similar sailing vessels, however, boat designers still had some flexibility. By incorporating the latest technology into their designs while still adhering to the rules, they hoped to give their teams the winning advantage over the others.
One advantage is called foiling and is only performed downwind. This is when a boat reaches a certain velocity and rises above the surface, barely skimming the water. It reduces the drag on the boat and rapidly picks up speed. The boat literally flies on water. It can be extremely dangerous and new rules were issued to maintain overall safety of the sport. Naturally, there are risks involved and every crew member understands the danger, even with those security precautions in place.
Many years later, tragedy struck! While training for the 34th America’s Cup, Andrew (Bart) Simpson’s boat capsized and he was trapped underneath the water and died. In his memory, the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation was established. The tragedy brought new safety guidelines to the sport. Crew members now carry safety devices (air, knives, etc.) to help them survive should an accident occur.
At the 34th America’s Cup, it came down to Team New Zealand (challenger) and Oracle Team USA (defender). The Americans were down 1-8, but fought back hard and tied it up. The teams were now even at 8-8. The last race would determine the winner. It was close, but in the end, the United States won. They pulled off the biggest shakeup in sailing history!
This year, the 35th America’s Cup will be held in the beautiful waters of Bermuda’s Great Sound, an ideal location for sailing. Fans will be able to watch with great enthusiasm, while also enjoying the nearby America’s Cup Village at the Royal Naval Dockyard. The Village will include all the team headquarters, eateries, entertainment and places to shop for the perfect souvenir.
The qualifying races will begin on May 26th, when the challengers (Artemis Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand, Groupama Team France, Land Rover BAR and Softbank Team Japan) compete in the Louis Vuitton Cup Qualifiers. The top challenger will face the defender Oracle Team USA in America’s Cup started on June 17th, in hopes of winning the prized trophy. Who will win this year’s Cup? You’ll just have to watch to find out!
On January 25, 2017, an announcement was made in London, which sets forth a new framework for the next two America’s Cup (2019 and 2021). This new arrangement has been well received and signed off by five of the six teams (Emirates New Zealand was not present, but kept informed). It establishes a set of guidelines, which allows business investors the ability to control costs and plan long term. It also allows teams to remain intact and fans engaged with far less down time between competitions. By reducing overall costs, it permits other countries to compete in this world renowned sailing competition attracting more fans to the sport.
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