The 36th America’s Cup is coming up, hold onto your hats and your seats

Move aside Olympics, the winds and skills of only one challenger push these teams to the finish line for glory. 

Estimated reading time 22 minutes – If you are a pleasure boater, especially if sailing is your passion, or simply just a boating enthusiast, hold onto your hats and your seats. This is a story of sailboat racing like none other. It is the America’s Cup, the world’s oldest competition. 

The history and prestige associated with the America’s Cup attract 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 fundraising and management skills. The high-performance sailing sport is driven by technology. The amount of hydrodynamic and aerodynamic, as well as materials engineering, that goes into today’s races is quite extraordinary. When it comes to the America’s Cup, the good old monohull boats that we are used to seeing are radically changing and evolving. They are now almost becoming aircraft. 

Water, wind, and human reaction

Due to cutting-edge innovations, it is a very expensive endeavor. By all measures, the races are expensive both for the cities that play the host role, as well as the teams that race. Although financial figures are not easy to locate, it is known that teams in 2013 spent upwards of $300 million—and much more these days—for the high prestige of winning the world’s oldest competition. Normally teams do not disclose members’ pay, but in 2015 a case for unfair dismissal in a US court brought by Joe Spooner, a former sailor in Larry Ellison’s Oracle Team, revealed his salary to be $300,000 a year. However, resist joining the uninitiated crowds in thinking that the biggest budget guarantees a win. In the end, no matter what type of yacht is on the water, it boils down to the elements and human reaction to it. While sailing during the race, you need to read the wind and try to take the right course. Just like other racing events, literally, every second contributes to winning or losing. With that, welcome to an international sports event started 169 years ago in 1851, which is older than the first modern Olympics, which took place in 1896. 

In March 2021, after another extreme boating adventure and high-tech drama on the water, the winning team and its associated yacht club will be declared the America’s Cup winner in Auckland, New Zealand. The good news is that starting this month, you will be able to follow the colorful breaking news of the race here in Just look for it in The Boating Chronicle section.

A sports story that started 169 years ago, long before the Olympiads

Let’s open up and look into a time capsule that was set in 1851. We are in the  Royal Yacht Squadron’s (RYS) clubhouse located in Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight, United Kingdom. The history of the club is a rightful source of pride for its members. The club was founded on June 1, 1815, by a group of 42 gentleman yachting enthusiasts and named The Yacht Club. Five years later, member King George IV conferred the “Royal” in the club’s title and, in 1833, King William IV renamed the club the Royal Yacht Squadron. The Squadron is the only yacht club whose members were warranted in 1829 to fly the white ensign from their stern by a Royal Navy warrant.

Members of the Squadron at the May 9, 1851, meeting decided and scheduled a race to take place on 22 August. This race was to be the first of a series of challenge races for successive Cups and was a part of the 1851 Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta. The Earl of Winton, then Commodore of the RYS, sent invitations for the Great Exhibition of 1851. He also invited the recently formed New York Yacht Club (NYYC) to enjoy the facilities of the clubhouse of the RYS. John Cox Stevens, the founder and first Commodore of the NYYC, responded positively and anticipated racing with his schooner named America.

Responding to invitations, 17 British boats, along with the one lonely American schooner, registered for the race. The participants of the race were to go around the Isle of Wight clockwise. The course was called “The Queen’s Course.” The course was near Cowes Castle where the RYS headquarters is located. The winner would get the silver ‘R.Y.S. £100 Cup’ awarded by the Squadron. 

The America’s Cup. Photo courtesy of Richard Hodder / Emirates Team New Zealand

Originally known as the ‘R.Y.S. £100 Cup‘, the trophy was renamed the ‘America’s Cup.’  After the schooner America won the race and the Cup was donated to the NYYC, under the terms of a Deed of Gift it made the cup available for perpetual international competition. From that point on, generally every four years from 1851 through 1983, the  NYYC and its skillful skippers successfully defended the trophy 24 times in a row—for 132 years.

Schooner America. Photo courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich

Ending the 132-year American domination of the races

The trophy was held by the NYYC from 1857 (after John Cox Stevens’ syndicate won the cup and donated the trophy to the club) until 1983. Along the way, many well-known American skippers contributed to the 132 years of the continuous winning streak.  Among them were well-known names such as the John Malcolm Forbes syndicate with Puritan (1885), the William K. Vanderbilt syndicate with Defender (1895), and Ted Turner III, founder of CNN, with Courageous (1977). 

Then came 1983. The race took place for the first time outside of America in Fremantie, Western Australia. An Australian syndicate representing the Royal Perth Yacht Club, with Australia II, won the Cup, racing against the American’s defender, Liberty, skippered by Dennis Conner. For those of you who have not focused on yacht races before and think that it is a simple, slow-motion race on the water, think again and read the 7 Things I learned section at the end of this story below. It was one of the toughest races ever and ended with a painful loss for America.

1983 America’s Cup

Australia II won the match races after fighting back from a 3–1 deficit to win the America’s Cup, ending the longest winning streak in sporting history and the US’s 132-year domination of the racing series in the waters of NYYC off Newport, Rhode Island. The loss stunned America and American sailing enthusiasts.  A 1984 story published in Sports Illustrated, titled “Why we lost the America’s Cup,” said it all: “The US charted a fatal course before the race began.” 

Well, Mr. America’s Cup, Dennis Conner, came back on top, winning the America’s Cup back from Australia in the next race in 1987 with his Stars & Stripes Syndicate registered under the San Diego Yacht Club. Since then, all the way up to the 36th America’s Cup in 2021, the cup was won by the San Diego Yacht Club and the Golden Gate Yacht Club of the US 2 more times each; the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron of New Zealand 3 times; and the Société Nautique de Genève of Switzerland 2 times.  

Introduction of challenger selection races

From the first defense of the cup in 1870 through the 20th defense in 1967, there was always only one challenger who sailed against defender NYYC. In 1970, for the first time, there were multiple challengers, so the NYYC agreed that the challengers could run a selection or elimination series with the winner becoming the official challenger and competing against the defender in the America’s Cup match. That was the birth of the Challenger Selection Series.

The first selection race was between the yachts, France, owned by Baron Marcel Bich, founder and owner of the Bic pen company, and Gretel II, owned by Australian media magnate, Sir Frank Packer. Packer’s team with Gretel II, registered with the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, won the first selection race, only to lose the Challenge against the Defender US team during the 1970 America’s Cup.  (You can find more about that event in the 7 Things I learned section below.)

From 1983 through the 35th America’s Cup in British Bermuda in June 2017, Louis Vuitton sponsored the Louis Vuitton Cup as a prize for the winner of the challenger selection series. The current 36th America’s Cup selection series is sponsored by Prada.

First ever competitive outing of racing yachts in a World Series preceding the Challenger Selection races adds to the drama

This year, the America’s Cup ratcheted up the drama even further by adding another event, the America’s Cup World Series (ACWS), a preliminary three-regatta circuit, before the Prada Cup. The first event of the circuit was to take place in Sardinia, Italy, this year, from April 23 – 26. It was to have become a key milestone for the 36th America’s Cup, with teams and fans all around the world getting a first glimpse at how the new revolutionary flying monohulls would race against each other. The four-day regatta was to have been the first ever competitive outing of the racing yachts getting ready for the PRADA Cup challenger selection races. Revolutionary AC75 Class foiling monohulls currently being developed by the five competing teams were supposed to have been on display. The AC75 design for the 2021 race specifies a boat length of 75 feet, with two long foil arms that make the vessels appear to fly over the water. See the AC75 boat up close here. The five competing teams were: America’s Cup Defender Emirates Team New Zealand, Challenger of Record Luna Rossa PRADA Pirelli Team (ITA), INEOS Team UK (GBR), NYYC American Magic Team (USA), and Stars + Stripes Team USA (USA).  Later, due to financial difficulties, Stars + Stripes Team USA pulled out of the ACWS.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the restrictive measures imposed by various governments, the America’s Cup Arbitration Panel of the New York Yacht Club decided that it had become objectively impossible to hold the ACWS event in Sardinia, Italy, and canceled it, relieving the competitors and the organizers from their obligations arising from the Protocol. But Sardinia was only the beginning of a jam-packed 2020 schedule that was set well before the pandemic. After Sardinia, the teams were to have moved to Portsmouth, United Kingdom, where the second ACWS regatta was to have taken place between June 4 – 7 this year. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 lockdowns, that event also had to be canceled.

However, thankfully, due to New Zealand’s skillful control of the Covid-19 pandemic, the third event (the final regatta) will still take place from December 17 – 20, 2020, in Auckland, New Zealand. In fact, all the remaining races of the America’s Cup, scheduled for 2021, are planned to take place in Auckland, New Zealand. The prestigious PRADA Cup, the Challenger Selection Series, is still planned to start on January 15, 2021. Finally, the winner of the PRADA Cup will meet the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, in the 36th America’s Cup Match starting on March 6, 2021. 

06/07/17 Emirates Team New Zealand – America’s Cup Victory Parade in Auckland City. Photo courtesy of Richard Hodder

In 2017, Team New Zealand, representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron of New Zealand, challenged the 2013 Cup winner, Oracle Team USA of the Golden Gate Yacht Club. They won the Cup and, thus, they are the current Defender. In 2021, they will face the Challenger team under the name of Emirates Team New Zealand. (You can find more about how Emirates Airline joined Team New Zealand in my 7 Things I learned section below.)


The bottom line is that in order to win the 36th America’s Cup next year, the Challenger will first have to win the PRADA Cup. In other words, any team that will earn the right to Challenge the Defender in the 36th America’s Cup between March 6 – 21, 2021, has an extremely long and arduous road ahead of them.

High performance sailing teams of the world have started to gather in Auckland, New Zealand

Set against the picturesque background of the Hauraki Gulf of Auckland, New Zealand, with a new title sponsor, PRADA, and in a dramatic new class of racing yacht, the AC75, the world’s best sailors are getting ready to race to win the oldest trophy in international sport.

After being the first team to bring an AC75 last year, the American Magic Team sets a new record as PATRIOT is the first race yacht to touch the water on October 16th. The PATRIOT is the second AC75 racing yacht of the team, built by the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic Team. They unloaded their yacht in Auckland after it was airlifted 9,000 miles from its factory. The official launch ceremony of PATRIOT took place in the morning at the team’s new base on Auckland’s Viaduct and the team revealed an AC75 that, as expected, is a significant evolution from their first boat, especially in terms of hull shape. 

American Magic Team AC75 Yacht Patriot Sailing – Auckland, October 26, 2020

Then, on October 17th, in less than 24 hours, a second bold new America’s Cup race boat was launched on Auckland’s Viaduct. INEOS TEAM UK has christened BRITANNIA, their second AC75, exactly two months before the start of racing for the PRADA ACWS in Auckland. The new yacht design of the British revealed significant differences not only from their previous AC75, but also from the others launched so far, showing once again that there is not a sure path to follow to develop the fastest boat.

Britannia of the INEOS Team UK. Photo courtesy of C. Gregory in Auckland

Then, on October 17th, in less than 24 hours, a second bold new America’s Cup race boat was launched on Auckland’s Viaduct. INEOS TEAM UK has christened BRITANNIA, their second AC75, exactly two months before the start of racing for the PRADA ACWS in Auckland. The new yacht design of the British revealed significant differences not only from their previous AC75, but also from the others launched so far, showing once again that there is not a sure path to follow to develop the fastest boat.

Luna Rossa and the Prada Pirelli Team in Auckland

On October 20, the Prada Pirelli Team of Italy launched their race boat Luna Rossa in Auckland during an official ceremony held at the team’s new base on Hobson Wharf.

Emirates Team New Zealand

With three AC75s now out of their sheds, the countdown to the 36th America’s Cup presented by PRADA has officially started. The next few weeks will all be about getting these new boats out on the water and up to speed, pushing the development and getting ready for the PRADA Cup challenger selection races. 

This year even the pandemic could not stop the American Magic team

During the summer, making a great strategic decision, the American Magic team moved to New Zealand for training. On July 27th, they completed a milestone five-hour sailing session in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour. Since then, the US team has been diligently training and getting ready. The team’s first AC75 racing yacht, DEFIANT, had been dormant since concluding its final training day at the team’s winter base in Pensacola, Florida, in early March. 

A combination of cancelled America’s Cup World Series events in Europe, the team’s COVID-19 safety precautions in Pensacola, and a 9,000-mile ocean journey transporting the first of their two yachts, DEFIANT, to New Zealand kept the team on shore for nearly five months. While logistics, design work, the production of American Magic’s second AC75 yacht PATRIOT and other projects kept the 145-plus-person Challenger team busy, a return to sailing was highly welcomed and a morale booster for the US team.

Commenting on the team’s overall plan, Terry Hutchinson, Skipper and Executive Director of American Magic, said that despite all of the unexpected challenges brought on by COVID-19, the campaign for the America’s Cup is on track. “Reliability and performance and racing are all completely linked together. And with the boat, it was great to see everything working reasonably well. To bring it together as a team is a great effort by everybody involved. There were a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” said Hutchinson.

The US team believes that time spent at the racing venue correlates to racing success throughout the world of high-performance sailing, from junior events to the Olympic Games and to the America’s Cup. They also believe that even when competing on a boat as advanced as an AC75, knowledge of the venue remains a key part of any Cup-winning equation.

NBC Sports to cover 36th America’s Cup

Meanwhile, the Defender New Zealand team pushes forward with their world outreach plans. “Since we won the America’s Cup in Bermuda in 2017, we have always stated that our objective was to make this America’s Cup the most inclusive and accessible America’s Cup in its 170 year history,” said Grant Dalton, CEO of the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand. In order to achieve their objectives, they are making the broadcast of the events as widely available as possible via national free-to-air networks, supplemented by major pay channels, and on their website and digital platforms. In the US, NBC Sports channel will be covering the races. If you are one of our avid international readers, you can find a list of regions and their broadcasters in my 7 Things I Learned section below.

Also, starting this month, you can follow all 36th America’s Cup breaking news here in under The Boating Chronicle section. The section also will be reachable through the Breaking News advertising posted on our landing page. 

Well, that’s it for now. Stay well. I hope to say hello to you if you spot my boat, Life’s AOK, in one of the locations that I’m hoping to visit in 2020, that is if Coronavirus permits us.

I bid you Fair Winds and Following Seas.

7 things I learned

  • The day that 132 years of US dominance of the America’s Cup ended. The cup title came down to the seventh and final race. For the seventh and deciding race on 26 September 1983, the wind was light at around eight knots. The pre-start was not a typical match race start. “Neither party wanted to make a mistake and end up in the protest room,” Conner would explain later. Liberty won the start by eight seconds ahead of Australia II on paper but the Australians held a controlling position at the favoured end sailing toward the favoured side which gave them the early lead. Australia II was subsequently overtaken by Conner who built up what seemed to be an unassailable margin. At the start of the penultimate leg (a square run), the America’s Cup looked like it would stay in Newport. But Conner failed to cover Australia II, which allowed them to run deeper and faster assisted by breeze and wind shifts, allowing Australia II to overtake the Americans by the leeward mark. Conner then engaged Australia II in a spectacular tacking duel with nearly 50 tacks, including a number of faked “dummy” tacks, trying to break the Australians’ cover. Australia II held on until both boats reached the starboard layline in amongst the spectator fleet and tacked several boat lengths ahead of Liberty and sailed to the finish to take the race. Australia II crossed the finish line with a winning margin of 41 seconds, becoming the first successful challenger in the 132 years “since the schooner America won it in a race around England’s Isle of Wight in 1851.” Wikipedia
  • What is Deed of Gift? The Deed of Gift of the America’s Cup is the primary instrument that governs the rules to make a valid challenge for the America’s Cup and the rules of conduct of the races. 
  • The first challenger:  The first selection race was between the yachts, France, owned by Baron Marcel Bich, founder and owner of the Bic pen company, and Gretel II, owned by Australian media magnate, Sir Frank Packer. After defeating Baron Bich’s yacht in the challenger selection series 4–0, the Australian yacht took on the American defender, Intrepid, skippered by Bill Ficker in a best-of-seven race series for the America’s Cup. Intrepid won the first race when Gretel II’s David Forbes was swept overboard but managed to hang onto the sail and scramble back on board. Then in a controversial second race, Gretel II crossed the finish line 1 minute 7 seconds ahead, but due to a collision at the start, the Australian challenger was disqualified. Intrepid won the third race, but Gretel II recorded a win in the fourth race by a margin of 1 minute 2 seconds. Intrepid then took the fifth race to win the America’s Cup 4–1.
  • How will the 36th America’s Cup challenger be determined? The Prada Cup will consist of four Round Robins of three races each, a seven-race Semi-Final, and a 13-race Final between the two leading teams. Each win gets one point. The highest ranked Challenger at the end of the Round Robins will be automatically qualified for the Prada Cup Final; the remaining teams will then race in a 7-race Semi-Final and the first team who gets four points will qualify for the Prada Cup Final. The Prada Cup Final will then determine the Challenger for the “36th America’s Cup presented by Prada” Match: the winner – the first team to get seven points – will challenge the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand, and will receive the Prada Cup and race in the 36th America’s Cup from March 6 – 21, 2021.
  • PRADA Cup racing calendar: The racing schedule for the PRADA Cup has two races per day with a tentative race time window estimated between 16:00-18:00. The Round Robins will take place from the 15th to the 24th of January, 2021, and will be followed by the Semi-finals from the 29th of January to the 2nd of February, 2021. The PRADA Cup Final, which will determine the Challenger that will face the Defender Emirates Team New Zealand in March, will be raced from the 13th to the 22nd of February, 2021.
  • How did Emirates Airlines become a part of Emirates Team New Zealand? The Emirates joined the team as its naming sponsor in 2004 when it began its quest to bring the America’s Cup back to New Zealand. It remained a stoic supporter through two close Challenges in 2007 in Valencia and 2013 in San Francisco before Emirates Team New Zealand proudly lifted the ‘Auld Mug’ again in Bermuda in 2017. Offering flights to more than 150 destinations, including daily service to Christchurch from Sydney, Emirates Airlines operates 21 return flights per week from New Zealand to Dubai.
  • You will be able to follow the 36th America’s Cup: To ensure both the most accessible and most complete live and highlights coverage from broadcasters in well over 120 territories, the 36th America’s Cup has partnered with free-to-air and pay networks including: 
    • USA and Caribbean – home country of NYYC American Magic (Challenger) – NBC Sports
    • New Zealand – home country of Emirates Team New Zealand (Defender) – TVNZ
    • Italy – home country of Luna Rossa PRADA Pirelli Team (Challenger of Record) – RAI and Sky Italia
    • UK – home country of INEOS Team UK (Challenger) – BBC and Sky UK & Ireland
    • South Africa & sub-Saharan Africa – SuperSport
    • Australia – Fox Sports Australia
    • Pacific Island Nations – Pasifika TV
    • France, Switzerland, sub-Saharan Africa and other French territories – Canal+
    • Sweden – TV12 and C More
    • Korea – SBS
    • Taiwan – ELTA
    • Malaysia & Brunei – Astro

2 thing I recommend

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  • Learn everything about the AC75 boats here.

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