History of the America’s Cup – Part 2


Welcome to the 2nd part of our series covering the history of The America’s Cup. Readers will be able to remember in the 1st part we took a look back at how the race got started and how it developed into the global phenomenon that it is now. In this blog we will be taking a closer look at some of the earlier matches and the boats used.


It all started when Commodore John Stevens persuaded six others to join him. Their mission was to build a yacht that could sail to the UK and compete in competitions to raise money. George Steers was the boat designer that they contracted, and he helped to build the schooner America, which was 31m in length. The yacht was launched May 3rd, 1851. In the August of that year they raced against no fewer than 15 other yachts in the annual 53 nautical mile Yacht Squadron fixture. America romped home the winner, beating Apocryphally into second place by a clear 8 minutes. It is alleged that Queen Victoria had asked who came second, only to receive the reply “your majesty, there is no second, only a winner”. After that race the American syndicate made the decision to donate the prize to the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) which subsequently meant that the prize would be available, held in trust perpetually for the winners of each race.

Early Challengers

The world had to wait until 1870 before the first challenge to the American’s was laid down. James Lloyd Ashbury who had made his fortune from the railways, beat the American schooner Sappho in his 1868 designed topsail-schooner Cambria. It was this win that inspired the British to believe that they had sufficient skill to take on the Americans and so the challenge was issued. In August, Ashbury entered the 18-strong race against other schooners. The NYYC Queen’s Cup race allowed time to be benefited based on the ship’s overall weight. Sadly, the Cambria only managed to record an 8th place finish.

Undeterred, Ashbury offered a 7-race match-up in 1871, which the NYYC accepted. This agreement was based upon NYYC being able to field a different boat at the start of each day’s racing, if they so choose. Asbury had a new yacht at this time; however, the Livonia as it was known was well beaten in the opening 2 races by Columbia, the new American yacht. Sadly, Columbia had to be withdrawn in the 3rd race after an accident. It was replacing by Sappho which crushed the British challenge in the 4th and 5th races, thereby defending the trophy successfully for the American’s.

The challenge that came next was from the Canadian’s. However, as before this also turned out to be without merit in the final result. Their entry Countess of Dufferin was comprehensively beaten by the American schooner Madeleine. Next up was another Canadian challenger; however, their challenge was fraught with issues. Notably the lack of funding. The Atalanta was no match for Mischief as it saw the American’s once again retain their grip of the cup.

Watch out for the next part in this series when we take a closer look at some of the other key points in the history of the America’s Cup.