An America's Cup without any Americans

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (02/12/00)
By Ray Pendleton

Can you imagine how football fans would react if the two teams competing in the Super Bowl were from foreign countries?

Well, that gives you some idea of how sailors in the U.S. are reacting to the final results of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series for the America's Cup recently sailed in Auckland, New Zealand.

All of the U.S. teams, including our own Waikiki Yacht Club/Aloha Racing Team, have been eliminated and now the America's Cup will be contested by that series' winner, Italy's team, Prada, and the current Cup holder, Team New Zealand.

Obviously, the situation is different in that the race for the America's Cup has traditionally been open for challenges from sailing teams from around the world. But, this will be the first time in the 149-year history of the Cup that a U.S. boat will not be taking part.

For anyone whose memory may have gotten fuzzy, the America's Cup was originally created by the British in the mid-nineteenth century for a challenge race between American and English sailors. As a measure of its cost, it was dubbed the "Hundred Guinea Cup."

In 1851, six American businessmen from the newly formed New York Yacht Club sailed their untested 90-foot schooner America across the Atlantic and, in a race around the Isle of Wight against 15 British competitors, captured the new trophy and took it home.

Some six years later, these same yachtsmen presented the trophy to the New York Yacht Club, with the condition it became a challenge cup to be awarded to the victor of "friendly competitions between foreign countries." The trophy was rechristened the "America's Cup" in honor of their ship.

The first official challenge for the Cup came from England, in 1870, from the Royal Thames Yacht Club. Sailing in a single race against a fleet of 18 boats from the NYYC, the challenger was defeated.

For the following 113 years, the NYYC kept the America's Cup in its grasp, though not without controversy, and certainly not without many changes to the rules under which the competitors raced.

Rather than requiring a challenger to race against the club's entire fleet of yachts, a one-on-one match race format was adopted. Also, time allowances were given for boats of different sizes.

But, as with any handicapping system, it was less than perfect and eventually lead to boats built to a prescribed formula involving waterline length, sail area and other factors. The 12-meter yachts, raced from 1958 to 1987, were such boats.

At the 1983 race, just about the time that many yacht designers had decided the 12-meter had reached a design plateau, along came the Australian's entry, with its secret "winged keel," and suddenly, the America's Cup was wrested out of American hands and taken to Fremantle.

San Diego Yacht Club's Dennis Conner was able to bring the Cup back to the U.S. after the next race in 1987. It was then successfully defended there, using the new International America's Cup Class boats, in 1992, only to be lost to New Zealand in the next race three years later.

Now, between New Zealand and Italy, my bet is the Kiwi's will hold on to the America's Cup, but it will be a close series of races.

As for the Americans, the talk is of attempting to consolidate our numerous teams into one or two that could win the Cup in the next race, wherever it is.

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