The venerable, and oldest yacht racing trophy, America’s Cup, gets a whole new look. Well, not the cup itself, which is the oldest active trophy in international sports predating the Modern Olympics by 45 years.
Originally the Royal Yacht Squadron Cup it became America’s Cup when the schooner America won the challenge in 1851 beating 15 yachts from the Squadron’s 53 mile race around the Isle of Wight 8 minutes ahead of the best British boat.
There have been two replicas of the America built. And I have a familial connection with the first one which was built in 1967 by Goudy and Stephen, East Boothbay, Maine. My dad’s sister, Marion, married a lumber merchant, Speed, who supplied the masts for the boat. I always had thought of Speed as sort of a noodge when I was young, but admittedly I didn’t know him well at all, but later when I found out what he had done it gave me a different perspective of the man. Speed spent a couple of months tramping around and camping in the deep forests of the Pacific northwest looking for just the right trees for the masts. When he’d found them they were so far from any roads that they were air lifted out by helicopter which was such a unique solution to the problem that it was photo documented by Life Magazine.
A second replica was built by Scarano Boat, Inc., in Albany, NY and launched in 1995.
There were no challenges for The Cup until James Lloyd Ashbury’s topsail schooner Cambria tried in 1871
The form that the boats contesting for the cup changed over the years. The first were, of course, schooners, and the New York Yacht Club, which became the holder of The Cup, wrote the rules and remained in possession of the trophy until 1983 when the Royal Perth Yacht Club and their Australia II ended the longest winning streak in the history of sport. In 1885-87, the rules required that the competitors arrive for the race on their own bottoms, so the British contenders first had to sail across the Atlantic.
The magnificent Volunteer tried in 1887
In 1889 the rules limited boats to a 70 foot waterline length of 70 feet but that rule was changed several times. Ten years later Thomas Lipton (yes, THAT Lipton who made tea famous once again here in the States after the party held in Boston Harbor some years before.) entered the fray with his Shamrock against Columbia.
In all, Lipton made five attempts to capture the cup, all of his boats named Shamrock which didn’t offer him good luck.
His efforts to win the cup, earned him a specially designed cup for being “the best of all losers.”
From 1914 to 1937 the boats were bound by what was known as the “Universal Rule.” This era saw the domination of the J boats.
After WWII the super-expensive J boats gave way to the era of the 12 meter class rule that ran from 1956 to 1987. Fiddling with the rules of the class resulted in boats with an overall length of between 65 to 75 feet.
Dennis Connor lost The Cup in 1983 but in 1987 he redeemed himself in the yacht Stars & Stripes representing the San Diego Yacht club after beating 13 challengers.
In 1988 New Zealander Sir Michael Fay lodged a surprise “big boat” challenge under the original rules of the cup trust deed and came up with the gigantic 120 foot long KZI which lead to a long court battle that ended with Dennis Connor beating him with the 60 foot wing-sail catamaran Stars & Stripes US-1.
To thwart such challenges between such unlikely boats again the International America’s Cup Class was instituted for all the races from 1992 to 2007. The last winner of The Cup was Alinghi owned by pharmaceutical billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli.
This coming February the 33rd America’s Cup race will be held in Valencia, Spain, starting Feb. 10th and contested by a muti hull fleet which, with their legendary speed and hull flying should end the old saw that sailboat racing is as exciting as “watching paint dry.”