The Beginners Guide to the Americas Cup

Those of you that enjoy mostly cruising with a G&T either in hand (or in mind) may well be aware of something called the America’s Cup but have little actual knowledge of what is, how long it’s been going and how the competition works. If that description is a fair one of your knowledge, here’s our Rookie Guide courtesy of Jolly Parrot.

Why is it called the America’s Cup?
The first yacht to win the first competition was a yacht called ‘America’. Hence, ‘The America’s Cup’.

What is the America’s Cup?
It is a sailing competition based on match racing. Since its inception the competition has been limited to the current holder of the cup (the defender) and the challenger/s. The Cup is one of the most prestigious sailing competitions in the World. 2017 is the 35th holding of the exclusive America’s Cup sponsored by Louis Vitton.

What is Match Racing?
Match Racing is where one boat races against just one other, unlike fleet racing where several dozens of boats (or more) might race together with or without handicap. 

The largest Fleet Race in the World is the annual Round the Island Race which takes place around the Isle of Wight, the location of the first America’s Cup Race - and one of Queen Victoria’s favourite country retreats, Osborne House. The Round the Island Race fleet usually consists of 1,600 boats or more.

Who started the whole thing, where and when?
Queen Victoria started it all when she initiated a challenge to the Americans to a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851 - less than fifty years after the Battle of Trafalgar. 

Sadly, she didn’t actually sail in the race herself for that would have been a truly amazing sight.

How does the competition work?
Each time the Cup is defended, the current holder gets to host the competition. Not only that, in large part they get to set the rules too, so any challengers have to beat them largely on their terms.

Any other teams that enter are ‘challengers’ and they must all race each other in the first round with the top four challengers proceeding to the next round. They will then compete amongst themselves until eventually only one challenger remains. This last challenger then races against the defending holders of the Cup over a series of races. The most winning team wins the Cup and hosts the next defence. 

Oracle Team America are the defenders again after beating the Emirates Team New Zealand in one of the most crushing turnarounds in sporting history.

Who are the defenders?
The Cup is being defended for the third time in a row by Oracle Team America. Ben Ainslie, now Skipper of the British Team Land Rover BAR, was an integral part of the American boat’s nail biting win in the last Cup defence, so perhaps us Brits are in the game this time around?

Who are the challengers and how do we find a winner?
Until yesterday (3 June) there were the Brits (Land Rover BAR), The Kiwis (Team New Zealand), The Swede’s (Artemis), The French (Team France) and the Japanese (Softbank Team Japan). 

However, France has now been eliminated, leaving four remaining challengers now competing in the next round, the Louis Vuitton America's Cup. Then it's a straight knock out. 

The two best performing boats will face off with the winner of the Playoff Final going through to the America's Cup to take on 'The Defender', Team Oracle USA.

How fast do these boats go?
Boat speeds of 45 kts+ are common with 30 kts+ often seen in just 10 kts of true wind. That’s fast!

So how much of a chance do the Brits have?
With four times Olympic Gold medallist, Sir Ben Ainslie at the helm and ex F1 Mclaren Boss, Martin Whitmarsh as CEO, you’d have to think they have a pretty good one, although their performance this week has been pretty mediocre. The genius F1 Red Bull (and ex Maclaren) aerodynamic designer, Adrian Newey has also been involved in the project for some time, so let’s wait and see.

And three silly questions - and answers - to finish..

1. OK - it’s a bit cool - but why is everyone dressed like a Star Wars storm trooper?
Good question. Well, the need for buoyancy aids is probably self explanatory but the helmets come from the dangers involved in racing large, fast catamarans at speed. A collision or capsize can be very dangerous. Sadly there have been some serious incidents causing serious injury or loss of life.

2. Why do virtually all the crews I see interviewed on the BT Sport / BBC seem to be from down under?
Hmm. Well, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it does seem like our Antipodean friends have quite a lot of talent when it comes to sailing these days - especially in match racing. Perhaps it’s down to their great summers and Northern Europe’s rather less impressive ones? Still, Land Rover BAR is an all-Brit lineup.

That said, this Antipodean talent, in the guise of Emirates Team New Zealand, managed to throw it all away in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in sporting history during the America’s Cup final against Oracle Team America in San Francisco Bay in 2013. 

The defenders clawed back a 1 - 8 deficit by winning eight races in a row to win 9 - 8 in a nail-biting decider.

3. I fancy entering next time - how much does it cost to compete?
No problem. The Land Rover BAR campaign is rumoured to have a sponsorship budget target of £80 million for their campaign, although other teams have spent more - and less - in the past. As J.P. Morgan is once reported to have said, “if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it.” It’s worth noting that the main players this year are, in large part, multi-billionaire’s, which rather makes that statement still relevant.

The America’s Cup is being defended by Oracle Team USA in Bermuda this month. You can watch the America’s Cup on BT Sport or highlights courtesy of the BBC, hosted by Claire Balding. Alternatively, you can catch up on the tournament’s YouTube Channel.