The America’s Cup, affectionately known as the “Auld Mug”, is a trophy awarded to the winner of the America’s Cup match races between two sailing yachts. One yacht, known as the defender, represents the yacht club that currently holds the America’s Cup and the second yacht, known as the challenger, represents the yacht club that is challenging for the cup. The timing of each match is determined by an agreement between the defender and the challenger. The America’s Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy.
The trophy was originally awarded in 1851 by the Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around the Isle of Wight in England, which was won by the schooner America. The trophy was renamed the America’s Cup after the yacht and was donated to the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) under the terms of the Deed of Gift, which made the cup available for perpetual international competition.
Any yacht club that meets the requirements specified in the Deed of Gift has the right to challenge the yacht club that holds the Cup. If the challenging club wins the match, it gains stewardship of the cup.
The history and prestige associated with the America’s Cup attracts not only the world’s top sailors and yacht designers but also the involvement of wealthy entrepreneurs and sponsors. It is a test not only of sailing skill and boat and sail design, but also of fund-raising and management skills.
The trophy was held by the NYYC from 1857 (when the syndicate that won the Cup donated the trophy to the club) until 1983 when the Cup was won by the Royal Perth Yacht Club, represented by the yacht Australia II, ending the longest winning streak in the history of sport.
From the first defense of the Cup in 1870 through to the twentieth defense in 1967, there was always only one challenger. In 1970, for the first time, there were multiple challengers, so the NYYC agreed that the challengers could run a selection series with the winner becoming the official challenger and competing against the defender in the America’s Cup match. Since 1983, Louis Vuitton has sponsored the Louis Vuitton Cup as a prize for the winner of the challenger selection series.
Early matches for the Cup were raced between yachts 65–90 ft (20–27 m) on the waterline, owned by wealthy sportsmen. This culminated with the J-Class regattas of the 1930’s. After World War II and almost twenty years without a challenge, the NYYC made changes to the Deed of Gift to allow smaller, less expensive 12-metre class yachts to compete; this class was used until it was replaced in 1990 by the International America’s Cup Class which was used until 2007.
After a long legal battle, the 2010 America’s Cup was raced in 90 ft (27 m) lwl multihull yachts in a best-of-three “deed-of-gift” match in Valencia, Spain. The victorious Golden Gate Yacht Club then elected to race the 34th America’s Cup in AC72 foiling, wing-sail catamarans. Golden Gate Yacht Club successfully defended the Cup. The 35th America’s Cup (2017) match will be sailed in 50 ft foiling catamarans.
Photos: The Library of Congress