It was originally awarded in 1851 by the Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around the Isle of Wight in England, won by the schooner America.
The yacht was sailed to England with the intention of showcasing the skills of the developing New World across the Atlantic by taking on and beating the best England could offer … which America did. It’s an on-going theme of the Cup, particularly in relation to its recent Antipodean winners.
For 132 years the defender, the New York Yacht Club, successfully repelled every challenge until Alan Bond’s Australia 2, representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club and skippered by John Bertrand, beat Dennis Conner’s Liberty to end the longest winning streak in sporting history.
The Aussie success piqued New Zealand's interest in the Cup and the first Kiwi entry was set up by Michael Fay for the 1987 edition. KZ-7, the so-called "Plastic Fantastic", skippered by Chris Dickson, reached the final of the Louis Vuitton challenger series, before losing narrowly to Conner, who went on to regain the Cup and take it to San Diego.
Undeterred, Fay embarked on a rogue Deed of Gift challenge in 1988 under the arcane rules of the Cup, building a giant sloop to take on the Americans. Conner responded by building a catamaran which inevitably annihilated the Kiwi effort.
That fiasco heralded the new International America’s Cup Class of yachts in which the Kiwis challenged again in 1992 and went close, before Sir Peter Blake set up Team New Zealand which swept all before it under skipper Russell Coutts in 1995.
Yachting’s Formula One
Famously labelled ‘the game of life’, the America’s Cup transcends sport, embracing cutting-edge technology, big personalities and staggering amounts of money. It is yachting’s Formula One.
As Wikipedia states: 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 latter had become particularly pertinent for Team New Zealand, which did not have its own billionaire and relied instead upon the so-called ‘Family of Five’ sponsorship model which funded the victory in 1995, and then the successful defence in 2000 in Auckland.
But after that win the core of the team, including Russell Coutts and his so-called Team Magic sailors, defected to Swiss billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi team, devastating the Kiwi outfit and going on to win the Cup in 2003.
Team NZ rebuilt
Team New Zealand rebuilt under round-the-world sailor Grant Dalton. In 2007, Emirates Team New Zealand won the Louis Vuitton Cup in Valencia in front of huge TV audiences, before losing the America’s Cup to Alinghi; the Swiss winning the final race by a margin of just one second.
There followed a three-year hiatus over law suits between billionaires … Bertarelli of Alinghi and Larry Ellison of Oracle … which concluded in another Deed of Gift Challenge in giant multihulls in Valencia in 2010. Oracle won and established a multihull America’s Cup for San Francisco in 2013.
Emirates Team NZ
Emirates Team New Zealand rebuilt again, Grant Dalton raising in excess of $100 million, with the New Zealand Government investing NZ$34 million.
The two Cups held in New Zealand were worth a very conservative NZ$1.2 billion to the economy, hence the Government investing in it again; economic impact reports seeing each dollar invested returning two dollars to the economy.
Off the back of the Cup and round the world racing successes, a marine industry has developed worth $1.17 billion with a thousand companies employing 8000 people and 500 apprentices in training.
New Zealand is a world leader in the design and building of yachts, masts sails and gear allied to a global world-wide reputation for re-fitting superyachts. As in Valencia, the America’s Cup in San Francisco provided an invaluable showcase for New Zealand trade.
ETNZ profile: Grant Dalton