America’s Cup

Introduction

The America’s Cup is one of the oldest sailing races. It was formerly known as ‘The Hundred Guinea Cup’. Each year, the America’s Cup attracts some of the most daring and committed sailors from around the world. It has also been regarded as a test of skill for boat designers and manufacturers who are in constant competition to create the fastest and sleekest yachts. In order to qualify for the America’s Cup, boats must meet a number of minimum requirements as stated by the International America’s Cup Class (IACC) rules. As of 1992, Louis Vuitton, a company specialising in luxury products, has sponsored another sailing race known as the Louis Vuitton Cup. Today the America’s Cup pits the current winner of Louis Vuitton Cup against the winner of the previous year’s America’s Cup.

History

The America’s Cup is one of the world’s oldest competitions – it’s even older than the modern Olympics! The first America’s Cup race took place in 1851 when a team from New York beat a British team in a race around the Isle of Wight by twenty minutes. This defeat was a significant blow to the pride of the British Navy with both teams having been willing to do just about anything to win the race. Tactics ranged from extensive spending on the development of new boats to spying on rivals. The US team, known as the New York Yacht Club, continued to win every single America’s Cup race until 1983, when the race was won by an Australian team, Australia II. America’s Cup rules state that the winning team may choose the venue of the next race. The winners of the 32nd America’s Cup, the Swiss team Alinghi, chose to hold the race off the coast of Spain. This was the first time the race was held in continental Europe.

What is the format of the America’s Cup?

The America’s Cup, like the Louis Vuitton Cup, belongs to a type of race known as match-racing. This means that the teams race head to head, usually over two laps of their designated route.

Each team consists of 17 sailors. An additional member, known as the 18th man, usually accompanies teams. This individual is generally a celebrity or a representative from a sponsoring organisation. You’ll find four main types of sailors aboard an America’s Cup yacht.

The Afterguard: America’s Cup racing is known as much for the quality of its boats, as for the tactical skill of her racers. The sailors making up the yacht’s afterguard are the tacticians behind the team. They include the skipper, strategist and boat navigator.

The Trimmers: To win a complex race such as the America’s Cup, you’ve got to have a speedy boat. The trimmers comprise the helmsmen who monitor the boat’s sails. They ensure that they are hoisted in a manner which allows the boat to travel as fast as possible.

The Foredeck: These individuals are responsible for sail adjustments at the front of the boat. In certain instances, you might even see them climbing up the mast to carry out difficult modifications to the yacht’s rigging.

The Grinders: Grinders carry out some of the most physical tasks aboard an America’s Cup yacht. The have to pull the ropes that control the movement of the boat’s sails during complex turns and manoeuvres.

What rules and regulations govern the America’s Cup?

The America’s Cup is governed by a number of complex rules that affect, in particular, the types of boats allowed to participate in the race. However, whilst boats are required to meet the rules governing matters such as the weight and speed of their vessel, it is possible to make trade-offs between different categories. For example, they could increase the length of the boat and reduce its width if they believed doing so would increase the speed of the boat.

Some typical dimensions of a boat participating in the America’s Cup

Length of boat – 24m
Height of mast – 32.5m

Sail area (upwind) – 320sqm Sail area (downwind) – 5,100sqm

Weight of fittings and hull – 3 tonnes
Weight of rig – 1 tonne
Weight of keel – 1 tonne

The boats must be constructed in the team’s home country and are subject to stringent checks.

In recent years, boats taking part in the America’s Cup have tended to be on the heavier side. Heavier boats tend to be longer in length. Together with added sails (this is made possible due to the boat’s longer length), yachts are, as a result, much faster. However, critics have argued that such tactics encourage boat designers to produce very generic yachts, rather than taking risks with boat design

Scandal and the America’s Cup

The America’s cup has seen a considerable number of scandals in recent years. Few races have passed without controversy. The quest for the trophy, known as the Auld Mug, is often so intense that teams resort to underhand methods, in order to gain an advantage over their adversaries. In recent years, teams have found themselves embroiled in everything from complex lawsuits to the hiring of scuba-diving spies, intent on gathering information on opponents.

In the early days of the cup, the English team was accused of scandalous behaviour on a number of occasions. In 1895, a boat led by the Earl of Dunraven was disqualified, despite winning the race fair and square. In response, the English refused to participate in the race until 1934. However, technicalities saw them once again lose the race. This led one commentator to state: “”Britannia rules the waves, but America waives the rules.” In 1983, the year the Australians finally ended team America’s winning run of more than a century, representatives of the American team argued that the Australians had been guilty of adding a ‘secret keel’ to their boat. The America’s Cup has also seen more than its fair share of tragedy. In 2001, pirates murdered the legendary America’s Cup yachtsman, Sir Peter Blake. Blake had led team New Zealand to America’s Cup victories in 1995 and 2000.

Want to learn more?

You might never end up as an America’s Cup sailor. However, if you’d like to relive a little of the fun associated with America’s Cup racing, here’s a great interactive game you might like to try out.

You will also be able to find more useful information on the official website of the America’s Cup