The America’s Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy in the world and is awarded to the winner of a race between two sailing yachts. There is no fixed periodicity between two races. One yacht is the defender that currently holds the Cup and the second yacht is the challenger which is the yacht club that is contesting for the Cup. The timing of the race is decided by agreement between the two yacht clubs.
It all started in 1851 when the Royal Yacht Squadron awarded the Cup for a race by yachts around the Isle of Wight in England. It was won by schooner America and the trophy was renamed the America’s Cup in its honour. The Cup was donated to the New York Yacht club (NYYC) under the terms of the Deed of Gift by the Royal Yacht Squadron and was made available for a perpetual international sailing competition. The challenger for a race can be any yacht club in the world that meets all stipulations laid down in the deed of gift. If the challenging club wins the race, it gains possession of the Cup till the next race around.
The win of New York Yacht Club in the inaugural race in 1851 was no fluke. Even though the British ruled the waves then, NYYC held on to the trophy 25 consecutive times. It was only in 1983 that Australia’s Royal Perth Yacht Club beat NYYC to claim the trophy. The NYYC still has an empty space in their trophy room to keep the Cup, should they ever win it back. After NYYC, the San Diego Yacht Club and the Golden Gate Yacht Club ensured that the America’s Cup travelled to the USA. In between the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in 2000, 2003 and 2017 and Société Nautique de Genève in 2007 and 2010 have won the Cup.
From 1870 and till the twentieth defence of the trophy in 1967, NYYC had had only one challenger. However, in 1970, there were multiple challengers for the first time and it was agreed that a selection series would be conducted that would determine the ultimate challenger to contest the defender for the America’s Cup. Since 1983, Louis Vuitton has sponsored this trophy.
The type of boats that have been raced since the inception of the America’s Cup too has changed over time. The early races were held on yachts 65–90 ft long and were owned by the rich and the famous. These evolved into the J-Class regattas of the 1930s.
After NYYC had held on to the trophy without a challenge for more than 20 years since 1937, the Club decided to make changes to the Deed of Gift, making it possible for smaller and less expensive yachts to participate in the race. Consequently, 12 metre class yachts were permitted in the race. This carried on till 1990 when it was again replaced by the International America’s Cup Class which remained in force till 2007.
In 2010 the America’s Cup was raced in a 90 ft multihull yacht. The winning team of 2013, the Golden Gate Yacht Club chose AC72 foiling wing-sail catamarans. The history of the America’s Cup is dotted with legal battles centred primarily on changes in the Deed of Gift.
In June 2016, for the first time in the history of the America’s Cup, fresh water sailing was included. The preliminary races for the Louis Vuitton trophy were held in Lake Michigan, Chicago, Illinois. It was won by the Emirates Team New Zealand. They successfully challenged defender Oracle Team USA, winning the America’s Cup with a score of 7-1.
Typical racing speeds in the America’s Cup are over 30 knots with the boats reaching 40 knots in favourable conditions. The highest has been on July 18, 2013 when Emirates Team New Zealand sailed at 44.15 knots in 15.8 knots of wind.