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This week, the battle for the America's Cup takes place on the bottom of the world. This is a modern-day epic David v Goliath as the small, Isle of Wight GBR Challenge yachting team tries to take on the might of America, Italy, France, Switzerland and Sweden for the right to race New Zealand for the America's Cup. A cup whose origins 151 years ago was on the Isle of Wight.

The Origins Of The America's Cup

The America's Cup

In 1851, after the first world fair at the Crystal Palace, London, John C. Stevens, commodore and founder of the newly-formed New York Yacht Club, formed a syndicate to finance a new boat to demonstrate that American yachts were a match for those of the British. A challenge was sent from the newly formed New York Yacht Club regarding a race, which was accepted, and a specially designed
boat, the America, was built.

Hearing of the project, the Earl of Wilton, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, formally invited Stevens to bring his vessel to the Royal Squadron's Headquarters at Cowes, Isle of Wight.

The Race

After arriving in Cowes on the Island, the America entered into the Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta in an East-abouts round-the-Island race for the prize of The Squadron Cup.

On August 22nd, fourteen yachts prepared for the round-the-Island race. They ranged in size and type, yet unlike today, no handicaps applied. The race began with all the competitors anchored and with the sails down.

The race was to sail around the Island clockwise. It was ruled that the ships would, on the Easternmost point, sail on the outside of the Nab Lightship1 in order to avoid being grounded on the dangerous ledges nearby. However, when the America, which was in fifth place, approached this point, instead of sailing around the Lightship as the other vessels did, sailed inside, therefore taking a short-cut
against the rules, and taking the lead. From then on, the America was able to maintain the position it had unfairly won, and returned to Cowes first triumphant. Aurora, the smallest boat in the fleet, was second across the line, only eight minutes behind America. Had handicaps applied, Aurora would easily
have beaten America.

Despite protests from the ships which sailed the correct course, the America was declared the winner, and the competition has been the America's Cup ever since. The trophy took up residence at the New York Yacht Club. The New York Yacht Club was given the trophy as a "Deed Of Gift", and was to be raced for by
foreign nations in friendly competition through a recognised yacht club.

GBR Challenge

GBR Challenge, Britain's first attempt at winning the America's Cup since 1987, is based at Cowes thanks to local Cowes Philanthropist Peter Harrison. Amongst the GBR team is Olympic Medallist Andy Beadsworth, Olympic silver medallist Ian
Walker and Olympic medal winning rowers Greg Searle and Ian Weighell provide extra muscle. Many of the team, like brothers Julian and Guy Salter, attended school at Cowes, Isle of Wight.

The former derelict boatyard in Cowes has been transformed into the base responsible for designing the yachts which are making the challenge. Gym facilities have also been installed to keep the Olympic Gold medallists in shape. After the America's Cup, the site is to be developed into a centre of marine excellence for building and maintaining large yachts, and will be the base for future America's Cup challenges.

In April GBR 70 "Wight Lightning"2 and was launched by Princess Anne in April. She never actually felt the Solent's water as she was immediately shipped to Viaduct Basin, Auckland. She was designed by Jo Richards
of Gurnard, Isle of Wight, who had previously won Cowes Week.

The second yacht, Wight Magic, was named by Peter Harrison himself, named after the Island, and also as the word "Wight" can also mean nimble, courageous and strong. Mr Harrison felt that the name was particularly appropriate as the New Zealand team traditionally call their boats Black Magic. "I am dreaming of an America's Cup final where Wight Magic will defeat Black Magic," he jested.

The yachts were taken to New Zealand by Antonov transporter aeroplanes.

The Louis Vuitton Cup

To compete for the America's Cup, currently held by New Zealand, GBR Challenge has to win the Louis Vuitton Cup, as the winners of the Louis Vuitton Cup earns the right to race the current cup holders for the America's Cup. There are 9 teams competing this year, all, as per the rules, through recognised yacht clubs:

GBR ChallengeGBR70 Wight Lightning, GBR 78 Wight MagicISLE OF WIGHT, UK
Le Defi ArevaFRA69 Le Defi ArevaFRANCE

Mascalzone Latino3
ITA72 Mascalzone LatinoITALY

Prada Challenge
ITA74, ITA Luna RossaITALY4

Victory Challenge

Alingi Challenge

Oracle Racing

Team Dennis Conner

One World Challenge

How The Louis Vuitton Cup Is Scored:

Round 1: October 1-11th

All the 9 challengers raced each other, gaining 1 point per win. The One World Challenge won all its races, the Swiss Alinghi team, made up of New Zealand's 2000 America's Cup winning squad, won 7, GBR Challenge won 4 putting them mid-table. France's La Defi Areva team has lost all of its races.

Round 2: October 22nd - November 1st

The challengers race each other once again, 1 point per win, but the team with the least points is eliminated.

Quarter Finals: November 12-19, 23-30

Group 1: The top 4 boats race each other, the 2 winners go through to the next round. Group 2: The bottom 4 yachts also race each other, the two losers are eliminated.

The losers in Group 1 race the top 2 boats from Group 2.

Semi Finals: December 12-16, 20-28

The two top boats from Group 1 race, the loser is eliminated. The winners of the second Quarter Finals race, with the loser eliminated.

Final: January 11-21 2003

The winners from the semi-finals race, the winner wins.

America's Cup: February 15 - March 1 2003

The winner of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenges New Zealand for the America's Cup.


The America's and Louis Vuitton Cups have a reputation for being trophies where almost as many challenges happen in the court as on the sea. Battles between the lawyers are as frequent as between the competitors. Indeed, months before the competition began the law suits had started, with breaches of secrecy being debated.

Controversy has always been a part of the competition, ever since the America took a short-cut to win the round-the-Island-race in 1851, and 1934s defeat of Sir Thomas Sopwith's Endeavour challenge which was defeated by a controversial manoeuvre which the New York Journal reported with the headline, "Britannia Rules the Waves but the New York Yacht Club Waives the Rules".

Where then, in this sport of suing that loves litigation are you going to find an honest, strong, undaunted man to judge the competition? Why, the Isle of Wight of course.

Islander Bryan Willis, from Ryde, is the chief umpire and chairman of the America's Cup International Jury, consisting of 16 judges. He is a member of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club and has strong judging experience having judged the Volvo Ocean Race and chaired the Sailing panel of judges in the Sydney 2000 Olympics. He was influential in developing a training scheme for international judges through the International Yacht Racing Union. Bryan's is also a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and normally works settling small
marine claims disputes.

The America's Cup is decided, not by a single race as a fleet, but through a series of one-on-one races, with in each match, each yacht has its own umpire watching the yachts from motorboats following and observing the yachts' moves.

The Future

Peter Harrison plans to enter again in the next challenge in 2006. That, though, will not be the only Isle of Wight challenge. Cowes-based yachtsman Kit Hobday and millionaire Peter de Savary have announced that they plan to create an America's Cup Team for 2006 as Britannia Challenge through the Royal Thames Yacht Club. The challenge would only occur if this year's America's Cup was won by a European or American team, and not if it was held in New Zealand, which would be too far away. He would also not compete if Peter Harrison's GBR Challenge won and brought the cup home to Britain.

Kit Hobday is experienced with America's Cup challenges, being involved since the 1960s, including Lionheart in 1979, Crusader in 1982 and Blue Arrow in 1987. His son-in-law Mark Campbell-James, a yachting World Youth Champion would be likely to skipper the team.

Related Links

Summer Solent Sailing
1Now replaced by the Nab Tower2Named after the Isle of Wight, the name was chosen in a Blue Peter competition3"Latin Rascals"4Winner of the 1999/2000
Louis Vuitton Cup who lost the America's Cup to New Zealand.

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