Simon de Burton

How the America’s Cup gave rise to world’s most elegant yachts

  • From Spectator Life
The Rainbow (Image: Jeff Brown)

With the 37th America’s Cup a mere two years away, a small number of the world’s billionaires are busily pouring vast quantities of cash into building the AC75 monohull racing yachts that will skim across the sea off Barcelona at speeds of up to 60 mph, all in pursuit of a trophy colloquially called ‘the Auld Mug’ that the winner will be allowed to take home, but not keep.

The America’s Cup is possibly the most bizarre and arcane contest in the history of international sport, having started at the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 when the Earl of Winton, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, gracefully invited members of the fledglingNew York Yacht Club to pop across the pond and make the most of the facilities.

What he hadn’t intended was that the guests would want to race – something they wouldn’t usually be allowed to do as competition was only allowed to take place between RYS members.

So as not to disappoint the visitors, the ruddy-faced aristocrats who formed the RYS committee decided to establish a race called the 100 Guinea Cup which anyone could enter – and the Americans duly came, saw and conquered with their yacht ‘America’.

The ‘America’s Cup’ was subsequently founded in 1857, with the RYS confident that the events of six years before were mere fluke and that the rightful order of things would soon be restored with an easy win.

In the event, the Americans were again victorious, and continued to defend the ‘Auld Mug’ for a remarkable 132 years until finally being beaten in 1983 by the Royal Perth Yacht Club’s ‘Australia II’. It was the longest winning streak ever recorded in sport.

12th January 1934: the construction of the America’s Cup challenger yacht ‘Endeavour’ for British aircraft designer and sportsman Thomas Sopwith, in Gosport (Getty).

The 37th running of the event will see 2021 winner Emirates Team New Zealand defend and, as mentioned, ‘challengers’ will spend vast sums trying to defeat it – even when rules to cut costs were introduced for the 2013 event, the teams were reported as having spent north of $100m just to get to the start line.

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