The oldest trophy in all of sport is more than a token of victory in an international yacht race. It’s about dedication, perseverance, and most of all, engineering the fastest boat of the fleet.
Today’s America’s Cup Match dates back to 1851, when members of the New York Yacht Club sent a sleek, 101-foot schooner across the Atlantic, entered and won the Royal Yacht Squadron’s 53-mile race around the Isle of Wight. The schooner’s name: America. Its owners returned to New York with bragging rights and an ornate silver ewer called the Hundred Guinea Cup, which was soon renamed for the winning vessel.
New York YC syndicates defended the America’s Cup for the next 132 years, until an Australian Challenger famously out-designed and out-sailed Dennis Conner on the racecourses of Rhode Island Sound. The Cup has since continued to change hands and venues and yachts: America reclaimed the Cup in Fremantle, Australia, in 1987 under Conner and defended twice, in 1988 and 1992, before the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron ran the table between 1995 to 2000. Swiss billionaire and yachtsman Ernesto Bertarelli claimed the Cup in 2003 and defended once, in Valencia, Spain, before Larry Ellison, the American billionaire founder of Oracle, won a lopsided series in 2010 with a brazen and radical trimaran. That victory ushered in the heyday of high-tech sailing machines, including the 72-foot AC72-class foiling catamaran campaigned in Oracle Team USA’s dramatic 2013 comeback, and again in 2017, when New Zealand reclaimed the Cup in 50-foot foiling catamarans.
The conventions of the modern Cup remain as simple as they are venerable: Following a victory, the winning team becomes the Defender; the first to challenge, and have that challenge accepted by the Defender, becomes the Challenger of Record; the Defender and Challenger of Record then define the terms of the next match—primarily the rules, dates and location but also, critically, the style of boat to be raced. Since 1970, other teams have been allowed to join the contest, though in all matters of procedure and protocol they are represented by the Challenger of Record, in the case of the 36th America’s Cup, that being the Italians of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team.