America's Cup

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America's Cup:

see sailingsailing,
as a sport, the art of navigating a sailboat for recreational or competitive purposes. Racing Classes

There is no single "yacht type" of boat, rather many types that include sloops, yawls, catamarans, and ketches.
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America's Cup

Type of Holiday: Sporting
Date of Observation: Varies; usually every three to four years
Where Celebrated: Location varies, depending upon who won the last race.
Symbols and Customs: The Cup


The sailing race known as the America's Cup is the world's longest-running international sporting event. It was originally named The Hundred Guinea Cup by the Royal Yacht Squadron of Great Britain, which suggested that the Americans send a boat to compete in a race around the Isle of Wight to be held in conjunction with the International Exposition at London's Crystal Palace in 1851. John C. Stevens, Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, took up the challenge and formed a syndicate to finance the building of a new yacht that would be the fastest afloat.

Designed by George Steers and built by William H. Brown, the 100-foot schooner America got off to a slow start in the 53-mile course, but ended up so far ahead of her sixteen English competitors that the event triggered a now-legendary exchange between Queen Victoria and one of her attendants. "Who is first?" the queen asked when a solitary boat appeared on the horizon. When she was told that it was the schooner America, she asked who was second. "Your Majesty," came the reply, "there is no second."

America's victory marked the beginning of the longest winning streak in international sports history. For 132 years, American yachtsmen successfully defended the Cup against all challengers, first in schooners and later in sloops (single-masted boats). For nearly a decade (1930-37), the American defenders were all "J" boats, averaging 130 feet in overall length and with masts towering more than 155 feet above the water. But by the end of World War II (1939-45), it became evident that the size requirement for both challenger and defender would have to be reduced if the competition were to survive. The so-called "12-Meter" boats, sixtyfive feet in length, raced from 1958 until 1987, although the passing of the "J" boats has always been mourned by yachting enthusiasts.

The structure of the races that make up the America's Cup is similar to that of major league baseball. Two leagues, consisting of the challengers and the defenders, compete against each other in the pre-season; but once the regular season begins, challengers only compete against other challengers and defenders against other defenders. The challenger who makes it to the final match faces the defending boat, which represents the country where THE CUP is currently held. For 132 years the New York Yacht Club successfully defended the Cup for America. But what had come to seem an invincible lock on the race ended in 1983, when the Royal Perth Yacht Club's Aus- tralia II defeated the New York Yacht Club's Liberty in the waters off Newport, Rhode Island, and brought the Cup home to Western Australia.

Australia II's victory led to an explosion of international interest in the race. While the number of challengers used to be quite limited, it is not uncommon nowadays for ten or more nations-including France, Great Britain, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, and Japan-to mount a Cup challenge. The audience for the race has expanded as well, particularly after the sports television network ESPN started broadcasting the America's Cup races live on television in 1990. Over 2.7 billion spectators in more than 150 countries can now watch the competition unfold on their TV screens.

The International America's Cup Class (IACC) boats that compete in the race are built to a specific rule or mathematical formula that takes into consideration the boat's length, sail area, and displacement. It's the job of America's Cup designers to take this rule and produce the best boat possible, given the wind and sea conditions of wherever the next race is due to be held. The IACC boats introduced in 1991 are seventy-five feet in length, lightweight, and powered by huge sails that extend from the top of 100-foot masts. Announced in 2007, a new class of boat, measuring ninety feet in length and sailed by a crew of twenty, will debut in time for the thirty-third America's Cup, currently scheduled for 2009.

Perhaps no name is more closely associated with the America's Cup race than that of Sir Thomas Lipton, who was the only challenger from 1899 through 1930. Representing the Royal Ulster Yacht Club of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Lipton brought six different racing yachts (one of which was used only for trials), all named Sham- rock, to the competition and lost every time. After his final defeat, in 1930, he was presented with a gold cup made by Tiffany & Company to commemorate his five courageous challenges. At eighty-two years old, he was dubbed the "Gamest Loser in the World of Sport."


The Cup

The oldest trophy in international sport was commissioned in 1850 by the Royal Yacht Squadron of Cowes, England, which asked Garrard's of London to design a Victorian ewer (pitcher) from 134 ounces of silver. The result was 27 inches high, with an elaborate handle and extensive Victorian decoration. For most of its life, the Cup rested in a case in the New York Yacht Club, but since Australia's successful challenge in 1983 it has moved from Perth, Australia, back to the United States (1987, 1988, and 1992) and then to New Zealand (1995). In March 1997, a Maori man attacked the Cup in its display case at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland, bashing it repeatedly with a sledgehammer and inflicting considerable damage on the trophy. The Maori, who make up fifteen percent of New Zealand's population, are among the poorest of its people and have a number of grievances with their country's government. Auckland, which boasts more yachts per capita than any city in the world, hosted New Zealand's defense of the Cup from October 1999 through March 2000.


Carrick, Robert W. The Pictorial History of the America's Cup Races. New York: Viking Press, 1964. Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000.


America's Cup Official Web Site



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Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

America's Cup

Held whenever the Cup is challenged, usually every 3-4 years
The America's Cup races are the world's longest-running international sporting event. The event is named for the trophy, originally called the Hundred Guinea Cup by the Royal Yacht Squadron of Great Britain, that was won by the 100-foot schooner America in a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851. The Cup was given by the schooner's owner, J. C. Stevens, to the New York Yacht Club, which successfully defended it against international challenges for 130 years. In 1984, the challenger Australia II defeated the American defender Courageous in races off Newport, Rhode Island, marking the end of the longest winning streak in international sports. In 1987, the American challenger Stars & Stripes, sailing for the San Diego Yacht Club, regained the Cup in races off Perth, Australia. Stars & Stripes successfully defended the cup in 1988 against New Zealand, and in 1992 America3 retained the Cup for the United States by defeating the Italian boat four races to one.
The race is usually held every three to four years, with challengers coming from England, Canada, France, Sweden, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and other countries. The rules require that the defenders and challengers sail in closely matched boats built to the same general specifications, but designs have varied over the years as sailing technology has grown more sophisticated. A new class of boats, the America's Cup class, was introduced in 1991.
The New Zealand team won the Cup in 1995 and again in 2000. The Swiss team took the Cup in 2003 and 2007. The 2007 event was held in Spain, the first time since 1951 that it was held in Europe.
America's Cup
P.O. Box 2500
Olympic Valley, CA 96146
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 601
HolSymbols-2009, p. 23
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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