It is the oldest active sporting event known. The first regatta was run in 1851, and it is also the challenge that has remained uninterrupted for the longest time in the hands of a winner (132 years).
Today I am telling the story of the regatta that gave origin to the America’s Cup.
The Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS), a prestigious English sailing club, was founded in 1815 and is based at Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight. It was always a very active club, home to local and international regattas, and with a deeply rooted and jealously preserved tradition. Only in 2013 were female members admitted and once, the club denied access to the Queen of England due to her gender.
The club organized regattas with a course of about 53 nautical miles around the island (Wight), where only British yachts could participate. In 1851, an international industrial exhibition was organized in London and the Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron invited the Commodore of the New York Yacht Club to visit and stay at the RYS. John Cox Stevens accepted the invitation and formed a syndicate of six investors to build the 30m schooner “America” and compete in prize-money regattas in England. The RYS creates a new challenge open to all nationalities and offering, as a trophy, the donation of Henry William Paget, 1st Marquis of Anglesey, of a silver goblet (the translation could also be “jug”), manufactured by the firm Garrard & Co of London, established in 1735 and still in business today. The cup was originally called “100 guineas cup”, which was what it cost, 100 British pounds plus a hundred shillings.
In May 1851 the date of the challenge is set for August 22 of that year. The Yankees, with a somewhat unstable independence, did not see the moment to knock down a notch their former colonizer’s “Britain rules the waves”, a verse from a British patriotic song and phrase with which they proudly proclaimed themselves supreme masters of the sea.
The regattas were everybody against each other, but in this case the “America” challenged 15 English boats. In the vicinity of the Isle of Wight and the Solent, the channel that separates it from England, there are shallow depths, shifting sandbars and strong tidal currents, so the Americans hired Robert Underwood, a local pilot, to guide them, and local sailors and fishermen as crew. There was a difference between the text of the published regatta program (both the “Nab” buoy, east of the shallows, and the rest of the island had to be left to starboard) and that printed by the RYS in the instructions, which resulted in interpretations about the route. They set sail to the East, and when the four pointers turn to leave the Nab buoy to starboard, Underwood tells the skipper of “America” to continue through the shallow waters area and to forget about the buoy, as the instructions allowed it. The distance saved was decisive, “America” moved to the first position and maintained it until winning the race by a small margin. Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales witnessed the regatta, and when the Queen asked, “who is second?”, She was answered “Madam, there is no second”.
The Americans took the trophy and held for 132 years a trophy won in England by an American ship with English crew and English tactician. In 1857 the trophy was renamed the America’s Cup in honour of the winning boat of that first regatta.
written by Oscar Siches