A Racing Revolution
From boats and sails to athletes and TV, much has changed in the
more than 160-year history of the America’s Cup. S.M.
The first-ever winner, America, was
a 101-foot, 170-ton schooner, a
yacht built to showcase American
shipbuilding prowess. And it did,
winning by eight minutes. Look for its
replica sailing on the bay this summer.
When Christopher Cross said “the
canvas can do miracles,” he was
right. Canvas sailcloth propelled the
yacht America to victory in 1851.
Children of the Industrial Revolution,
the original American crew came
from families who prospered in
locomotives and steam engines,
including the son of Alexander
Hamilton. Great sportsmen with
ample wallets and ample time, the
group of friends built the yacht
America to dominate the British seas.
Since its days as a Corinthian
(amateur) race, there have been few
protests of outcomes. Despite five
unsuccessful attempts to win the
Cup in the early 1900s, the U.K.’s Sir
Thomas Lipton was renowned for fair
play, gaining popularity for both the
sport and his eponymous tea brand.
In 1987, the Cup was televised live
on the then-young ESPN. High-tension sailing in the big breezes
helped propel the fledging network
— and cable TV in general — front
and center in Americans’ minds.
Spars were made from lumber,
and getting hit in the head wasn’t
uncommon. They don’t call it a
“boom” for nothing.
From schooners and the famed
J-class boats to the 12-meters
and IACC boats, hull design and
materials constantly changed — in
secret — as designers played the
Teams employed full-time sailmakers
to explore faster soft sail designs.
The 1992 cult classic Wind paid a
cheeky homage to AC sailmakers
with the winning sail, the Womper.
During the 12-meter era (1958–
1987), America’s Cup teams sported
volunteer crews. The lure of the Cup
and what it symbolized — the very
best in sailing — drew top American
sailors from across the country to
Race disputes were handled by a
jury, which meant wins were often
decided onshore and late into the
night, not on the racecourse, leaving
fans unsure who’d won the race until
the next day.
In 1992, the New Zealand company
Virtual Eye gave broadcasters their
first storytelling tool. Commentators
could toggle between live-action
racing and Virtual Eye to educate
viewers on the racers’ progress.
Higher loads on the boats lead to
a higher risk of failure. In 1995, the
Australian entry split and sank in just
two minutes, giving crew members
barely enough time to remove their
boots and jump into the ocean.
At 6. 5 tons, the AC72 catamaran
is capable of speeds greater than
40 knots, but some believe we’ll
see them go even faster. Picture a
13-story building moving across the
bay at 50 mph.
All AC boats in this edition are
sporting a 131-foot towering hard
wing. Described as a “big Lego set”
by ETNZ technical director Nick
Holroyd, the wing is made of carbon
fiber struts wrapped in Clysar.
Now full-time professional athletes,
the cream of this America’s Cup crop
each earns seven figures. And many
future sailors are expected to come
from the new AC “farm league” —
19- to 24-year-old sailors competing
in this summer’s Red Bull Youth
The rules are now enforced in
real time, with umpire calls made
by a team of officials armed with
the pinpoint accuracy of the GPS
location of every boat.
Catering to today’s audience demand
for real-time action, Cup organizers
introduced LiveLine. The augmented-reality graphics stem from the same
team who developed the NFL’s
yellow first-down line.
Sailors are personally prepared by
carrying “spare air” and knives on
their persons in case of a capsize.
Also on board for the first-time:
mandatory helmets and body armor.