History of the America’s Cup – Part 3


Following on from our first 2 parts in the series, we aim to uncover some additional history surrounding the world’s oldest sporting event. The America’s cup was born in 1851 and remains the pivotal part of the yachting calendar to this day. After the first series of challengers which the Americans were able to easily send back home, trophy less, there was a series of rule changes.

The NYYC Rule – 1885 to 1887

Following on from the somewhat incompetent challenges that were sent from Canada there was a significant change to the rules applied. During this period, challenges would only be accepted from yachts that had the ability to sail to the event under their own steam. In addition, water-line and sail length were factored into the racing as handicap ratings. Water-lines that we longer than 25.91M would face a time penalty.

The next British challenge was underway. Two yachts, the Genesta & Galatea, which were a new design type, later referred to as the British “plank-on-edge” design came and sadly went as they were unceremoniously dismissed by the American team. 1887 saw a Scottish challenge going up against the American Volunteer yacht. This was a little more interesting as the Scottish Yacht the Thistle was a bit of a secret weapon. It was dry-docked in New York; however, the entire hull area was covered to add intrigue and mystery to the design.

Again, the visitors went home with nothing but experience to show for their efforts with the Volunteer easily staving off the challenge from the Thistle. It is believed that both yachts were unfinished below decks, in an attempt to reduce weight and therefore increase speed. As stated earlier, there was a continuation of these rule changes as the NYYC applied versions to assist the speed and endeavour of both sets of boats. Notably the key changes were as follows:

  • The Seawanhaka Rule – 1889 to 1903
  • The Universal Rule – 1914 to 1937
  • The Twelve-Meter Rule – 1956 to1987.

The Australian Challengers – 1962 to 1983

In 1962 the Australians stepped in the fray with their first series of challengers. The American yacht Weatherly dispatched Gretel without too much difficulty. Constellation was awarded victory against Sovereign in 1964. The Aussies weren’t having a great deal of lucky trying to wrestle the cup away from the Americans. Another Australian yacht, the Dame Pattie was defeated by the cutting-edge design the Intrepid. The Intrepid went on to become only the second yacht to successfully defend its title.

Australia II – 1983

Despite not being as competitive as they would have wanted, the Australians didn’t give up on the challenge and 1983 saw a breakthrough year for the sport. In this year there were 7 yachts which challenged for the Louis Vuitton Cup, with the winner going on to make the race final. Australia II was pitted against the Americans, despite a series of calls from the NYYC to disqualify the boat over claims that the winged keel design was against the rules.

Failures and false starts put the Australians at a disadvantage as the Americans got off to a flying start. However, this didn’t deter them, rather the reverse. In the end the Aussies came back to take the trophy in a thrilling victory, the final score was 4–3 and represented the very first time that a successful challenge had been mounted against the Americans. As you might expect, after wrestling the trophy away from its home for the last 132 years the Aussies were in jubilant mood. No less so when their skipper, Alan Bond suggested the cup should be renamed “The Australian Cup”.