The America's Cup is considered to be international yachting's supreme prize. Affectionately known as the 'Auld Mug' the Cup has the honour of being the longest contested trophy in the history of international sport. The first race was contested in 1851 when the schooner America raced against 14 British yachts for a silver ewer1 offered as a prize by the Royal Yacht Squadron. America won the race and, in 1857, donated it to the New York Yacht Club accompanied by a Deed of Gift. The Deed specified that the Cup was donated 'upon the conditions that it shall be preserved as a perpetual Challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries'. The America's Cup competition was born.
The race series is conducted every three or four years and consists of a preliminary series of races to decide which yachting syndicate will have the right to challenge the holders for the Cup.
The Louis Vuitton Cup
As the selection series for the America's Cup, the Louis Vuitton Cup consists of a number of round robin match race series. Each of the foreign yacht clubs that has launched a challenge against the holders of the America's Cup, meets each of the others several times resulting in several hundred races before the Louis Vuitton Cup is decided. The winner of this competition then meets the holders in a nine race series to see who will hold the Cup for the next four years.
The Effects of Holding the Cup
What does the Cup mean for a syndicate and their country of origin? To a small nation like New Zealand, the current Cup holders, the prestige and business opportunities that are generated by being the designers and sailmakers and sailors of America's Cup winning yachts are immense. The America's Cup has had a long history, like that of yachting, as being a very elite competition. The boats are the culmination of years and millions of dollars of research and testing. Every detail from design, to materials, to sails and even the weights and numbers of the crew members produces a 12 metre yacht which is the epitome of the best in racing design.
Innovations on these yachts, like those in formula one cars, become standards for future designs in every category. The defense of the Cup in Auckland, New Zealand has resulted in the same frantic activity, and spin-offs that holding the Olympic Games can do for a city or country. It brings media attention and thousands of enthusiasts to the country. These enthusiasts include some of the richest, most influential citizens on earth and their entourages.
The 30th Defense
The 30th defense of the America's Cup is significant for two reasons. Firstly, the Italian Challenger Prada won the Louis Vuitton Cup, which meant that the races are being held between two non-American nations. This is the first time in Cup history that the Americans have not been either challenging or defending the Cup. Secondly is that New Zealand, in beating Prada 5-0, is the only non-American nation to successfully defend the Cup. The Australians were the first to win it off the Americans in 1983 but lost it back to the Americans in 1987.
Viewing the America's Cup
Modern technology has been instrumental in making what can be a pretty boring contest between two boats in a nameless patch of water interesting to landlubbers. Graphics programs which can depict the boats respective speeds and position plus full and informative commentary explaining the terms and tactics turn this sort of match racing into a two hour, full-on, duel with only seconds separating first from nowhere. The ubiquitous on-board cameras put everything but the spray in your face and gives the feel of being right on deck, tacking with the crew. What has previously been the sport of the very rich in most countries is now visible in every living room and is fuelling the dreams of a whole new generation of New Zealand kids.
What Defending the Cup means to New Zealanders
For New Zealanders, this presents the epitome of national pride and the feeling of being able to foot it with the best in the world no matter how small the nation. To win it was real David and Goliath stuff. To hold it will bring benefits and opportunities to New Zealand for a very long time to come.