The America's Cup - Alex Ferguson - ebook

This book will take you in the sailing world and describe its competitive extremes. Never too technical to be understood, the volume will first provide you with the history of the most important competition in the sailing world. It will explain then the intricate evolution of the rules governing the competition and will move to describe the crews and the boats that made history in The America's Cup. Detailed descriptions will underline the technological advancements that allowed the teams to continue improve performances and speed throughout the different editions of the competition. The book concludes with the expectations for the future, looking ahead of the next edition of The America's Cup to be held in New Zealand in 2021.

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The history

The intricacies of the rules

Challengers and defenders

The yachts

Looking Ahead



THE America’s Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy in the world, first contested in 1851 in a race around the Isle of Wight. It could also make a claim to be the most unfair competition in all sport, because the winner (the "Defender") has the advantage to choose the venue for the next edition, and in large part sets the rules of engagement.

Part of the mystery and allure of the America's Cup is that it is not contested on a level playing field, really. The America’s Cup is a match race, one against one. First the challenger teams must battle each other to find out which team has earned the right to take on the Defender in the America’s Cup itself. A series of racing events, called the America's Cup World Series (ACWS) are meant to be discrete events that will decide the winner that can eventually challenge the Defender. Points are accumulated across all the events. Because of the advantages the Defender has in setting the rules and deciding on the location, the deck is obviously skewed in its favour. The Defender has a guaranteed place in the final match.

It's important to note that, although the competition is weighted in favour of the Defender, the Defender can take part in the ACWS.

In the 35th America's Cup Edition, the ACWS events had four races: two on Saturday and two on Sunday. The Sunday races counted for double the points. All points were carried forward over all of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series events. At the end of the ACWS, the top team got 2 bonus points for the Cup Qualifiers in 2017, while the second place team got one bonus point.

The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers were for all teams - including the current Defender, Oracle Team USA. The regatta comprised a double ‘round robin’ - meaning that every team could get to race against every other team once per round. The top four challengers advance to the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Playoffs, progressing through a Semi-Final to a two-boat Final. This final America's Cup race decides the winner.

It used to be that the America’s Cup only took place every few years, and with no racing in between. This was boring for the sailors, and meant the event fell off the radar for spectators and enthusiasts. As of the last 10 years, there have been ‘warm-up’ events to help the sailors and the teams up to speed, as well as to get spectators, sponsors and other people more interested for the main final event.

The America’s Cup World Series events were popular during the build-up to the 2013 America's Cup, but it seems like nowasays the events mean even more, probably because they count for points towards the final, while also being shorter than ever with just four races per weekend.

All the changes to the event are with exciting TV (and Apps) coverage in mind, so while the sailors might prefer more races to even out the luck, TV audiences demand jeopardy and uncertainty.

At approximately 15 metres long, the catamarans being designed for the last edition of the Cup were the smallest boats ever to be used in the America's Cup’s 160-year history. However, they were also the fastest ever, capable of travelling in excess of 40 knots.

While the Defender hosts the event on home waters, Oracle Team USA hosted the last Cup edition in Bermuda, a British Overseas Territory, a choice that wasn’t entirely popular with American fans of the Cup.

The next edition of the Cup, planned for 2021, will have several unpopular decisions made by the US team amended. The Defender Emirates Team New Zealand has chosen Auckland as the location for the final match. Monohulls will finally return to the cup but with new technologies that will allow them to foil and to reach speeds never seen for a monohull during an America's Cup. Last, but not least, the matches before the final will drop the name of Luis Vuitton and will be named after the Challenger of Record, Prada, historically very close to the kiwi team.

Chapter 1

The history

THE America’s cup is a quarterly event that involves two sailing yachts racing for the trophy. It is also known as “Auld Mug.” The match is over 166 years old with 35 matches so far. America’s Cup was held for the first time in August of 1851, it is the oldest International sporting Trophy in the world. In discussing the history of the Auld Mug, it is difficult if not impossible to ignore top sailors of the world as well as top world-class yacht designers, major entrepreneurs and sponsors alike. This is because the competition does not just test the sailing skills of the sailors and the design abilities of yacht designers but the fundraising and finance management skills of business moguls, merchants and sponsors as well.

Usually, the match involves two yachts. One Yacht known as the “Defender” is the immediate past winner of the America’s cup while the other Yacht known as the “Challenger” is the Yacht that seeks to take over stewardship of the Auld Mug. The timing and rules of each match is determined by an agreement, which is entered into by the Challenger and Defender prior to the match. The winner of the match automatically becomes the defender of the next match. The challenger is determined by either winning a “Selection series” (where there are multiple challengers) or by meeting the standard set by the rules in the Deed of Gift and actually placing a challenge. There were instances where the Challenger for one reason or the other could not continue with the race and had to be replaced.

A Yacht club, the Royal Yacht Squadron had rewarded this cup for a race around the Isle of Wight, which is located in England. The original name of the trophy was the “£100 Cup.” The first winner of the America’s Cup is the Schooner America who lifted the cup in 1851 after racing around the Isle of Wight. After the victory, the Cup was renamed the “America’s Cup” after the yacht (Schooner America). After this change of name, the Syndicate that won the Cup donated it to the NYYC through a Deed of Gift in 1857 and this made the cup perpetually available for International competition. The Deed of Gift did not just transfer the Cup; it also contained some rules and requirements to guide the subsequent America’s Cup Races.

After 1857, the NYYC (New York Yacht Club) successfully held the cup for twenty-four matches (from 1857 to 1983) back to back until the Royal Perth Yacht Club represented by Australia II (a yacht) defeated them. In terms of date, the New York Yacht Club’s reign is the longest in the history of all types of sports.

The first defense of the cup took place in 1870 and since then there was always one challenger per match. However, one hundred years later, in 1970, the first match ever with multiple challengers took place. This was somewhat confusing because by its rules, the America’s cup involves only two contenders at a time. To determine a winner, the NYYC (New York Yacht Club) decided to conduct a selection series among the challengers so that the winner of the series would be the Official Challenger. This was done and the official challenger competed against the defender in the America’s Cup Match. The rule has come to stay and since 1983, Louis Vuitton has maintained sponsorship of the Louis Vuitton Cup as the official prize for the winner of the challenger series.

Before the Second World War, only Yachts of 65 to 90 Feet (20 to 27 meters) were allowed to take part in the race, which was held on the waterline owned by rich sportsmen. This is the reason for the 1930s J-Class regattas. However, after World War II, no yacht could meet this standard and NYYC (New York Yacht Club) went twenty years without a challenge so the club (NYYC) amended the Deed of Gift to allow smaller and less expensive yachts (the 12-meter class) to compete for the cup. The 12-meter class was used from 1958 to 1987 but in 1990, the International America’s Cup Class replaced it and was used until the 2007 match.

The year 2010 remains a remarkable year in the history of the sports because of the legal battle that ensued, after which the 2010 America’s Cup match took place in Valencia, Spain. The Golden Gate Yacht Club was the victor of this match. The victorious club proceeded to race in the 2013 America’s Cup in AC72 foiling, wing-sail catamarans. Golden Gate Yacht Club won this race too and successfully defended the cup.

The 2010 lawsuit opened the way for legal battles as from time to time; legal battles over changes to the rules guiding the America’s cup have taken place. The most recent legal dispute is the challenge of the changes made to the rules for the 2017 America’s Cup.

The current America’s Cup champion is the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. They will defend the Cup in the 36th edition to be held in 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand.

The original name of the America’s cup is the “R.Y.S £100 Cup,” which stands for a cup of one hundred GB Pounds or “The Hundred Sovereigns Cup”. After this, it passed through a series of change of name. The America syndicate mistakenly engraved it as the “100 Guinea Cup” but also referred to it as the “Queen’s Cup.” The name “America’s Cup” is derived from the name of the first winning yacht (America’s yacht) not the country. It is affectionately called “Auld Mug” in the Sailing Community. The Cup has the names of all the yachts that competed against America for it inscribed on it except the runner-up, Aurora and matching bases have been added twice to contain more names.

It is an Ornate Sterling Silver bottomless ewer crafted by Garrard & Co. in 1848. It is made of 134 oz. (3.8 kg) of Silver. Robert Garrard (a jeweler) designed it. The first Marquess of Anglesey, Henry William Paget bought one and presented it to the RYS for use at the 1851 Annual Regatta of the Royal Yacht Squadron around the Isle of Wright.

America’s Cup: 1851

COMMODORE John Cox Stevens was a charter member of the fledgling NYYC (New York Yacht Club). In 1851, he formed a six-man syndicate to build a yacht. The purpose for the construction of this yacht was to make some money by competing in yachting regattas and match races in England following an invitation by the Earl of Winton (who was the Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron) to take part in the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The members of the Syndicate (and owners of America) were John Cox Stevens, Edwin Stevens (John’s brother), Colonel James A. Hamilton, George L. Schulyer (James’ son-in-law), Hamilton Wilkes (NYYC’s first Vice Commodore) and John K. Beekman Finlay (a non-yachtsman). The six-man syndicate engaged the services of George Steers, a boat designer to design and construct a 101 Footers (30.78 m) schooner. Steers designed and built the Yacht at William H. Brown’s yard in New York. The schooner was constructed and named “America.” It was launched on May 3 1851.

The original purpose of the Great Exhibition of 1851 was to show off the best of everything British to the entire world, in the same vein, the Syndicate originally intended to show off America to the British. Prince Albert and the Queen immediately picked interest in the Yacht upon her arrival and followed her progress personally. They visited the Yacht the next day (after the race).

In 1851, specifically, 22 August, the Royal Yacht Squadron held her annual 53-nautical-mile (98 km) regatta round the Isle of Wight. The race was restricted to only Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS) members and their self-owned yachts. To allow Stevens compete, the “RYS £100 Cup” was established and entry was open.

The August 22 race of 1851 was to be the pioneer race in a series of challenge races for successive £100 Cups because prior to this, winners usually kept the cup and new ones were crafted for each race.

The course for the race was round the Isle of Wright. The course of the race was called “The Queen’s Course” and it was located close to the Royal Yacht Squadron headquarters. Eighteen Yachts entered for the race but only fifteen of them started the race. It commenced with a signal gun shot at 10am and ended by a gun salute from the winner at 8:34pm.

NYYC’s America partook in the race where she raced against 15 yachts. When she was just past the Needles at 5.47, her nearest rival was nowhere to be seen, as she was several miles behind. However, it took America about three hours to get to the finish line and she came out victorious by finishing at 8.37 just minutes before her closest rival Aurora, which was timed at 8.45. Bacchante made it at 9.30, Eclipse at 9.45 and Brilliant at 1:20am (at this time, the fireworks and dinner were over already).

A painting of the first America's Cup

It is reported (though questionably), that Queen Victoria was watching at the Finish Line and had asked which yacht emerged second. The reply was quoted thus; “Ah, Your Majesty, there is no second.” Unlike the Modern America’s Cup matches, which are “Match races,” the first was a “Fleet race” among many Yachts.

The other Yachts who started the race with America were:

• Alarm (a 193 ton cutter of 1830 design by Thomas Inman and built by Lymington, owned by Joseph Weld);

• Arrow (an 84 ton Cutter of 1821 design by Thomas Inman and belonging to Thomas Chamberlayne);

• Aurora (a 47 ton Cutter of 1838 design by Michael Ratsey and built by Cowes, owner – Thomas Le Marchant);

• Bacchante (Owned by Benjamin Heywood Jones, an 80 ton Cutter built in 1847 by Thomas and James Manlaws Wanhill and built by Poole);

• Beatrice (a 117 ton Schooner of 1839 design by Camper, owned by Walter P. Carew);

• Brilliant (a 393 ton 3-Mast-Schooner of 1839 design by John Rubie and built by Southampton, belonging to George Holland Ackers);

• Constance (a 218 ton Schooner of 1851 design, built by Joseph White and built by East Cowes, owner – Marquis of Conyngham);

• Eclipse (a 50 ton Cutter of 1847 design, built by James Wanhill, belonging to Henry Samuel Fearon);

• Freak (60 ton Schooner, designed in 1849 by Wanhill and belonging to William Curling Esq.);

• Gipsy Queen (a 160 ton Schooner belonging to Sir Henry Bold Hoghton and built in 1848 by White);

• Ione (weighing 75 tons, a schooner of 1851 design by White and belonging to Almon Hill);

• Mona (weighed 82 tons, a Cutter owned by Lord Alfred Paget, built by Poole and designed by Richard Pinney in 1846);

• Volante (48 ton Cutter, designed by Harvey and built by Ipswich in 1851 and belonging to J. L. Craigie) and

• Wyvern (a 205 ton Schooner owned by Duke of Marlborough and designed by Camper in 1845).

The three, which did not start the race are:

• Fernande (a 127 ton Schooner owned by Francis MountJoy Martyn, designed by William Camper and built by Gosport);

• Strella (a 65 ton Cutter designed by George and James Inman and built by Lymington, belonging to Richard Frankland)

• Titania (a 100-ton Schooner belonging to R. Stephonson, designed by Robinson and Russell and built by Millwall).

•Fernande could not make the start as she was disqualified; both Strella and Titania only made it to the starting line.

The yacht America was sold for $25,000, the syndicate went back to America with the money and the trophy. America remained in Britain for many years after the sale and was subsequently renamed Camilla. Lord Templetown (a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron) retained her ownership.

Initially, it was suggested that the cup be melted to make souvenirs for members of the syndicate, this would have solved many financial problems and made many a man wealthy. However, on July 8, 1857, the remaining members of the America syndicate through a “Deed of Gift of America’s Cup” donated the Cup to the New York Yacht Club (NYYC). The Deed of Gift specified that the Auld Mug be held in trust by the NYYC as a perpetual challenge trophy in order to promote friendly competition among various nations of the world. In 1870, the first race for the trophy was held and the cup was called “America’s Cup” which name has come to stay.

The boat that started it all: the America

The First Challenges: 1870 – 1881

JAMES Lloyd Ashbury was a British railway tycoon at the time. There was no challenge for the trophy until 1870 after the Solent (race) of 1868 when his (Ashbury’s) topsail schooner, Cambria an 1868 design weighing 188 tons beat the Yankee schooner, Sappho an 1867 design weighing 274.4 tons. The victory played a major role in encouraging the Royal Thames Yacht Club to believe that the trophy could come back home thus it officially placed its first challenge in 1870.

On August 8, 1870, Ashbury entered his schooner and raced against a fleet of seventeen schooners where time allowed was based on their tonnage. Cambria came eight place far behind the aging America (an 1851 design weighing 178.6 tons) that came fourth and Magic (Franklin Osgood’s 1857 design weighing 92.2 tons) coming first.

Asbury did not give up though, in October of 1871, he offered a “best-of-seven match race challenge,” which was accepted by the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) on the condition that a defending yacht would be chosen on the morning of every race. Ashbury had a new Yacht, Livonia (264 tons in weight) enter the race. Livonia was defeated two times in a row by Osgood’s new Centerboard schooner, Columbia. Columbia however withdrew from the race after dismasting and Sappho became the new defender. Sappho won the fourth race and the fifth race thus defending the Cup successfully.

After Sappho’s victory, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club placed a new challenge; this was the first challenge between two Yachts in a long time. A previous challenger from the 1870 fleet race, Madeleine (a 148.2 ton Schooner of 1868 design) defended this race and beat the Challenger Countess of Dufferin (a 221 ton Yacht of 1876, designed by Alexander Cuthbert). Cuthbert subsequently filed the second Canadian challenge in 1881. The Canadian challenger Atalanta (weighing 84 tons and made in 1881) represented the Bay of Quinte Yacht Club. The yacht suffered a lot of difficulties, shortage of funds, incomplete build and difficult delivery via the Erie Canal from Lake Ontario down to New York. NYYC prepared its first selection trials carefully unlike the other club. There were four sloop candidates, Mischief (the Iron sloop weighing 79 tons, designed by Archibald Cary Smith in 1879) was chosen out of the four and she defended the cup successfully.

A drawing of the Atalanta

The NYYC Rule: 1885 to 1887

IN order to solve the Canadian challenges, the deed of gift was amended such that only Yacht clubs on the sea could place valid challenges and all challenger yachts must sail to the venue of the races on their own hull. In addition, the NYYC and Archibald Cary Smith drafted a new rating rule to govern the next races. The rules included sail area and increased the length of the waterline into the handicap. It also laced penalties on waterlines that went longer than 85 Footers (25.91 meters). John Beavor-Webb, an Irish Yacht designer launched two challengers, Genesta (1884 design) and Galatea (1885 design). They defined the British “plank-on-edge” design, which meant, a heavy, deep and narrow-keel hull for very stiff yachts, perfect for the British wind. The boats respectively went to New York in in 1885 and 1886 but none of them was better than Burgess’ Puritan or Mayflower. Those two yachts made tremendous success at the selection trials and proved their builder, Edward Burgess to be master of the “compromise sloop.” The yachts were lightweight, and had a shallow hull and centerboard and did well in the Yankee airs, which were light.

Burgess did not stop there; he proceeded to design the Volunteer in 1887. Volunteer went against and beat a Scottish Yacht, Thistle. George Lennox Watson (a Scottish yacht designer) secretly built Thistle for this race. She was good, even when she dry-docked prior to the races in New York; Thistle’s hull was draped to protect the secret of her lines, an idea from American design. To save weight both Thistle and Volunteer were totally unfurnished below decks; they were strictly made for racing.


The Seawanhaka Rule: 1889 to 1903

THE NYYC espoused the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club’s rating rule in 1887. These rules contained so many loopholes, loopholes which Nathaniel Herreshoff (Bristol RI naval Architect) later took advantage of and built the widest and most extreme challengers of the America’s Cup by making many changes in Yacht design.

Subsequently, Herreshoff and Watson jointly merged the Yankee sloop design with the British Cutter design, the product of were very deep S-shaped fin-keeled hulls for the yachts. They utilized steel, aluminum, bronze, nickel and Tobin to lengthen the bow and stern overhangs of the yachts thus extending the waterline as their yachts heeled over and thereby increasing their speed.

The waterline limit for the next America’s Cup challenge was initially placed at 70 Footers (21.34 meters); however, the mutual-agreement clauses of a new Deed of Gift in 1887 compelled the Royal Yacht Squadron to withdraw Valkyrie, a promising challenger belonging to the Earl of Dunraven and designed by Watson. Valkyrie was withdrawn while she was crossing the Atlantic Ocean. After the withdrawal, Dunraven placed a challenge in 1893 and pleaded for a return to the initial 85 Footers (26 meters) limit. In preparation for Dunraven’s challenge, Britain’s largest cutters (totaling four) were built during this period, these included Watson’s Valkyrie II. In the same vein, the wealthiest members of the NYYC ordered two Cup candidates from Herreshoff and an additional two from the Boston Yacht designers. Herreshoff was designing a yacht, Vigilant at the time, and Charles Oliver Iselin (the Leader of the Syndicate backing Vigilant) gave him leave to design her, as he preferred. Heresshoff utilized this leave and put in his all into designing Vigilant. The yacht beat all her rivals in the selection trials and proceeded to defeat Valkyrie II and defend the Cup.

Dunraven was unrelenting a thus proceeded to file another challenge in 1895, this time with much larger boats with a waterline limit of 90 Footers (27.43 meters). Watson designed the challenger, Valkyrie III and put in many innovations like, making her wider than the defender, featuring the first steel mast and lightweight too.

Nathanael Greene Herreshoff (of Herreshoff Manufacturing Company) built another defender in a closed off hangar and launched her at night to veil the construction from the public. The NYYC ordered this Defender from Herreshoff in preparation for the challenge by Dunraven. Defender made use of aluminum topside centered to steel frames and manganese bronze under water and consequently, 17 tons of displacement was saved but this subjugated the boat to electrolysis after the races.

Valkyrie III did not win the first race. In the second race, there was a collision between Valkyrie III and Defender before the start line, so despite finishing first, Valkyrie III was deemed disqualified, and therefore, she withdrew from the competition. The events surrounding the races left Dunraven seriously embittered, he engaged in various arguments with other parties over the impartiality of the Cup Committee. Dunraven proceeded to assert that he was cheated, an act which resulted in the revocation of his NYYC membership. In 2004, Henry “Hank” Coleman was inducted into America’s Cup Hall of Fame for successfully sailing Defender in 1895; his victory brought the cup back home. Hank is the oldest winner of the America’s cup having won it at the age of 58.