What is the America's Cup?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The America's Cup is an international sailing race which attracts a great deal of attention and interest in the years when it is held. Competitors in the America's Cup compete to build the fastest, most maneuverable boats, using extremely talented crews to compete in this prestigious boat race. The America's Cup is also one of the oldest continually running competitions in the world, with a long and rich history.

The America's Cup began as a friendly boat race.
The America's Cup began as a friendly boat race.

The America's Cup started in 1851, when Great Britain challenged the United States to a friendly boat race. The Americans built a yacht, named it America, and used it to handily beat the British competition, challenging Britain's naval superiority. The reward for the match race was a silver ewer, which was donated to the New York Yacht Club in 1857 by the original crew of the America. Under the Deed of Gift, the document which accompanied the donation, the crew specified that the trophy “shall be preserved as a perpetual Challenge Cup for friendly competition between foreign countries.”

This trophy came to be known as the America's Cup, in a reference to the schooner which won the first match race, and the New York Yacht Club held onto the trophy until 1983, enduring a series of challenges from various nations. An Australian team broke the American winning streak, and the America's Cup has since traveled to an assortment of yacht clubs around the world as they vie for supremacy.

By tradition, the America's Cup is hosted by the nation which holds the trophy. Nations which wish to challenge must issue a formal declaration, and once the terms of the challenge are negotiated, the competing yacht clubs meet for a series of nine match races. All competitors use yachts in the International America's Cup Class (IACC), which spells out a series of restrictions which are designed to even the playing field a bit. Although the guidelines are quite specific, they do leave plenty of room for modification and innovation, and the ships used in the America's Cup tend to be among the finest in the world.

Like other international competitions such as the Olympics, the America's Cup is first and foremost a friendly event which is designed to sponsor a friendly relationship between the competitors. Supporters from both nations generally show up to watch the match and cheer their teams on, and the America's Cup is usually covered extensively in the media of the defender and challenger.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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