This year, at the 35th America’s Cup in Bermuda, two classes will be on display for the first time. While the fast, foiling AC50 catamarans compete for the Auld Mug in the America’s Cup final, the iconic J-Class will also once again take to the starting line, showcasing the history and majesty of one of the oldest trophies in sports. This showdown pits a true classic versus the newest, fastest and most advanced tech the Cup has ever seen.
J-Class Universal Rule: 1914-1937
In 1903, motivated by the extremity of Reliance, the largest racing sloop to ever sail the Cup, under the Seawanhaka Rule, Nathaniel Herreshoff suggested a new rule aimed to make racing more wholesome and durable. What resulted was one of the most iconic classes in sailing.
Under the new Universal Rule, overall length and displacement were included in the rating to benefit the heavy hulls of the large racing sloops, without handicapping sail area. The decision was controversial for British and American clubs who wished to pursue speed as the ultimate goal for the America’s Cup class.
Under a revised Universal Rule, James Lipton would continue to seek the cup with Shamrock IV and V, but was kept at bay by American defenders, Resolute and Enterprise. Carrying on Lipton’s legacy, another British challenger, of aviation fame, Sir Thomas Sopwith mounted a series of challenges, unsuccessfully facing down Rainbow and Ranger.
Notable Yachts: Shamrock V, Ranger, Rainbow, Endeavor, Resolute
The AC50: 2017-
The main event. These fast foiling cats are at the apex of America’s Cup technology. The American and British clubs that scoffed at the J-Class for being too slow would have approved of the AC50. The most advanced class to sail the America’s Cup so far, the America’s Cup Class catamarans easily blast around the course at 40 knots, putting closing speeds close to 100 miles an hour – a far cry from the slow, but majestic Js.
In an effort to cut down on costs and provide a more stable platform for competitors, the AC 50 was selected as a semi-one design class for the 35th Cup. Building upon the foiling fundamentals introduced in 2013 in San Francisco by the AC72, the AC50 offers a more maneuverable, faster sailboat and has brought a new breed of sailor to the quest for the Auld Mug. Defenders Oracle Team USA worked together with other challengers to help create a lasting framework for the Cup in years to come, and hopefully encourage new teams to challenge.